Fatah calls claims 'baseless'

Hamas accuses PA of helping Israel kill Islamic Jihad leader

November elimination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in the terror group, sparked heavy exchange of fire

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Hamas security forces in Gaza City, April 4, 2013. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Hamas security forces in Gaza City, April 4, 2013. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90/File)

Hamas in the Gaza Strip said on Sunday that its security forces arrested a cell of Palestinian Authority intelligence officials, who it claimed collected information on Islamic Jihad terror leader Baha Abu al-Ata before he was eliminated by Israel in a targeted killing.

Fatah, the party that dominates the PA, quickly pushed back on the allegation, claiming it was false.

Abu al-Ata and his wife were killed on November 12, in an Israeli strike on his home in northern Gaza. Terror groups in Gaza subsequently fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, which responded with retaliatory strikes.

After Abu al-Ata’s death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as a “ticking time bomb” and “the main instigator of terrorism” from the coastal enclave, responsible for many rocket attacks on Israel and planning more.

The Hamas Interior Ministry alleged in a statement Sunday that the cell of PA intelligence officers monitored the movements of Abu al-Ata for several months before he was killed.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader Baha Abu al-Ata, at a rally in Gaza City, October 21, 2016. (STR/AFP)

It specifically claimed that the cell was ordered to follow the Islamic Jihad commander by Shaaban Abdullah al-Gharbawi, who it said is a PA General Intelligence Services officer responsible for Gaza.

Hamas and the PA have been at loggerheads since 2007, when the former ousted the latter from Gaza. Multiple attempts to reconcile them failed.

The two frequently exchange barbs and accuse each other of being behind violent incidents in Gaza.

A video released by the ministry alleged that there were six PA intelligence officers under Gharbawi’s command. It also stated that Gharbawi resides in Ramallah, suggesting that he was not in its custody.

The footage included a recording of what the ministry alleged was a phone call about Abu al-Ata between Gharbawi and a Shin Bet security service agent named “Berri.”

The video also purported to show footage of the airstrike that killed Abu al-Ata.

In its statement, the ministry claimed that the security forces confiscated “technical materials” that confirm Gharbawi gave Shin Bet officers information about “the resistance’s abilities, plans and the movements of its members and leaders.”

Fatah rejected ministry’s allegations as “baseless lies aimed at covering up the secret understandings between Hamas and Israel.”

“This is a theater performance that has been woven together by Hamas’s delusions,” Fatah said in a statement.

For over a year, Egypt and other international parties have brokered various informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Palestine TV, the official PA channel. (Screenshot: Palestine TV)

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.

The PA has vehemently opposed them, arguing Hamas does not have the legitimacy to make deals with Israel.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior PA official, also responded to the allegations, insinuating that Hamas helped Israel kill Abu al-Ata.

He tweeted that Hamas “sold out the blood of Abu al-Ata” to achieve the understandings with Israel.

A Shin Bet spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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