Abbas aide threatens to punish Hamas amid fallout from Gaza attack

PA, Hamas continue to trade accusations over bombing of PA prime minister’s convoy. ‘What happened will not pass without a response,’ Ramallah official says

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Hamas personnel inspect the site of an explosion that occurred as the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah entered Gaza through the Erez crossing with Israel, on the main road in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, on March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Hamas personnel inspect the site of an explosion that occurred as the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah entered Gaza through the Erez crossing with Israel, on the main road in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, on March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas continued on Friday to trade allegations over the bombing of the convoy of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in the northern Gaza Strip earlier this week.

Rawhi Fattouh, a senior official with the PA’s ruling Fatah faction, called for an international commission of inquiry to investigate the incident, like the one that was formed after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Fattouh said he was not sure the PA wold be able to continue with the process of “reconciliation” with Hamas while its leaders are being targeted and intimidated.

The PA will not allow the “assassination attempt” that targeted Hamdallah to go unpunished, another senior Palestinian official warned. “What happened will not pass without a response,” said Mahmoud Habbash, religious affairs adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamdallah and PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj were on their way to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant during a visit to Gaza Tuesday when a roadside bomb was detonated near their convoy. The two senior officials were not hurt.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-R), escorted by his bodyguards, is greeted by police forces of the Hamas terror group (L) upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The attack, which has been strongly denounced by both the PA and Hamas, has sparked renewed tensions between the two rival parties.

“The Palestinian leadership will not allow this murderous terror act to pass without punishment,” Habbash said in a sermon he delivered during Friday prayers at Ramallah’s Muqata’a presidential compound.

Habbash said the PA would take “decisive and tough” measures in response to the attack. However, he did not specify the nature of the punitive measures.

“Some people who are listening to my words will attack me,” he added. “They will once again accuse me of calling for the destruction of the Gaza Strip. We are the Gaza Strip and no one seeks to embark on self-destruction.”

Smoke is seen from an explosion that went off near Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy in the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2018. (Screen capture: Ynet)

Denouncing Hamas leaders as “merchants of religion,” Habbash pointed out that a top Hamas official had recently called for attacking and arresting any representative of the PA government who visits Gaza. “This culture and incitement leads to such crimes and terrorism,” he said. “Now you know where the bombing [of the convoy] came from? Can this pass unnoticed?”

The senior PA official called on Palestinian leadership to reassess its relations with Hamas, including the Egyptian-brokered “reconciliation” deal that was signed in Cairo late last year.

The attack on Hamdallah’s convoy was directed against the Palestinian national project, Habbash argued. “This is the national project that some in Washington are currently discussing how to completely obliterate…through the so-called deal of the century, or the slap of the century, or the lies of the century. They want to liquidate the name of Palestine.”

Habbash’s comment referred to the US administration’s yet-to-be-announced Middle East peace plan, which the PA and other Palestinian factions have dismissed as a “conspiracy” designed to destroy the Palestinian cause and rights. He was also referring to this week’s White House gathering to discuss ways of improving the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, Supreme Sharia Judge in the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s adviser on religious and Islamic affairs. (Courtesy)

Habbash said that in order to solve its problems, the Strip must be reunited with the rest of the Palestinian territories. “Gaza must be restored to the Palestinian people. It’s impossible to have two authorities in the Gaza Strip. We won’t accept this and it is not in the interest of the Palestinians and their cause. It’s impossible to have two separate [forces] there. This is a form of idiocy and nonsense.”

Habbash warned that some Hamas leaders in Gaza will face punishment “sooner or later.” The Palestinian leadership, he said, will not allow the establishment of a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. “Anyone who thinks of establishing such a state is a traitor and should be punished for treason,” he added. “And everyone knows what the punishment for treason is.”

Hamas reacted to Habbash’s threats by accusing him of incitement against Gaza. “This incitement exposes planned intention against the Gaza Strip,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesperson for the terror group. “The bombing of the convoy was a premeditated act to justify the Palestinian Authority’s sanctions against the Gaza Strip.”

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