Pales­tinian prime min­is­ter es­capes in­jury in Gaza bomb­ing

Imperial Valley Press - - SCOREBOARD -

JABALIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) — A road­side bomb on Tues­day struck the con­voy of the Pales­tinian prime min­is­ter dur­ing a rare visit to the Gaza Strip, caus­ing no se­ri­ous in­juries but throw­ing an al­ready trou­bled rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process be­tween ri­val fac­tions into deeper tur­moil.

Prime Min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah had just ar­rived from his West Bank head­quar­ters to at­tend a rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony for a new wa­ter-treat­ment plant when the bomb went off. Al­though there was no claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity, Pales­tinian of­fi­cials ac­cused Gaza mil­i­tants of try­ing to as­sas­si­nate Ham­dal­lah. Gaza’s rul­ing Ha­mas group de­nied in­volve­ment.

The blast took place at a time of dead­lock in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts be­tween Ham­dal­lah’s Fatah party and Ha­mas, which has con­trolled Gaza since oust­ing Fatah forces in 2007. It also cast a shadow over a spe­cial White House meet­ing where in­ter­na­tional donor na­tions were set to dis­cuss the dire hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Gaza.

Ham­dal­lah, a soft-spo­ken for­mer univer­sity dean ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas five years ago, went on to in­au­gu­rate the long-awaited sewage plant project. But he quickly re­turned to the West Bank, where he vowed to press ahead with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts.

“This will not de­ter from seek­ing to end the bit­ter split. We will still come to Gaza,” he said.

He said the at­tack un­der­scored the need for the Pales­tini­ans to unify un­der a sin­gle au­thor­ity. Ha­mas has ceded some gov­ern­ment func­tions and con­trol of Gaza’s bor­ders, but it has re­fused calls to dis­arm and let Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity se­cu­rity forces take over.

“How can a gov­ern­ment over­take Gaza with­out main­tain­ing se­cu­rity? We ask Ha­mas one more time to em­power the gov­ern­ment,” he said. “With­out se­cu­rity, there won’t be a gov­ern­ment or an au­thor­ity.”

Ha­mas con­demned the at­tack, call­ing it a crime and an at­tempt to “hurt ef­forts to achieve unity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.” It promised an “ur­gent” in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Wit­nesses said the bomb was planted un­der an elec­tric pole on Gaza’s main north-south road and went off shortly af­ter Ham­dal­lah’s 20-ve­hi­cle con­voy had en­tered through the Is­raeli-con­trolled cross­ing.

“I could not see any­thing be­cause smoke and dust filled the air. When the smoke cleared, the ex­plo­sion was fol­lowed by heavy gun­fire, ap­par­ently from po­lice se­cur­ing the con­voy,” said a wit­ness, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of se­cu­rity con­cerns. “When the dust cleared, I saw peo­ple run­ning ev­ery­where, and po­lice were run­ning around.”

Two ve­hi­cles were dis­abled by the blast, while at least four oth­ers were dam­aged, with win­dows or sun­roofs blown out. One had streaks of blood on the door. Ham­dal­lah said six body­guards re­quired med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

In the West Bank, Ab­bas blamed Ha­mas for the blast. But his se­cu­rity chief, Ma­jed Far­raj, who was in the con­voy and was an­other po­ten­tial tar­get of the blast, said it was “too early” to say who was re­spon­si­ble.

There is a long list of po­ten­tial at­tack­ers. While Ha­mas of­fi­cials stren­u­ously de­nied in­volve­ment, there are el­e­ments within the group that do not want to cede power and op­pose the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. More rad­i­cal mil­i­tants, in­spired by the Is­lamic State group, also op­er­ate in Gaza. Some even sug­gested that the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity had staged the in­ci­dent to shore up Ham­dal­lah’s calls for Ha­mas to dis­arm.

The 2007 Ha­mas takeover left the Pales­tini­ans with two ri­val gov­ern­ments, Ha­mas in Gaza and the Western-backed Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity gov­ern­ing au­ton­o­mous en­claves in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank. Re­peated at­tempts at rec­on­cil­i­a­tion have failed or stalled.

In Novem­ber, Ha­mas handed over con­trol of Gaza’s bor­der cross­ings to the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity. It was the first tan­gi­ble con­ces­sion in years of Egyp­tian-bro­kered rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks. But ne­go­ti­a­tions have bogged down since then.

Ham­dal­lah’s visit came at a time of cri­sis in Gaza. The econ­omy has been dev­as­tated by three wars be­tween Ha­mas and Is­rael and a decade-long block­ade by Is­rael and Egypt meant to weaken the mil­i­tant group.

Amid warn­ings of a loom­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe, the White House was host­ing a gath­er­ing of in­ter­na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tives Tues­day to dis­cuss eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects and the dire sit­u­a­tion. The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, still an­gry over the U.S. de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, did not at­tend.

Se­cu­rity ser­vices per­son­nel in­spect the site of a Tues­day ex­plo­sion that oc­curred as the con­voy of Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah en­tered Gaza through the Erez cross­ing with Is­rael on the main road in Beit Ha­noun, Gaza Strip, on Tues­day. AP Photo

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