Hamas claims to know who tried to assassinate Palestinian PM

Hamas claims to know who tried to assassinate Palestinian PM

As arrests reported, terror group deputy minister refuses to reveal identities of suspects in bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy, asserts Israel to blame

A bodyguard for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) and a Hamasmember (R) escort the PM's convoy as he leaves Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
A bodyguard for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) and a Hamasmember (R) escort the PM's convoy as he leaves Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A Hamas official said Wednesday that the terror group knows the identities of perpetrators of the attempted assassination of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza a day prior.

“The interior ministry in Gaza has the names and other information of those linked to the bombing of the prime minister’s convoy,” Gaza’s deputy interior minister Tawfiq Abu Naim told Palestinian local media outlets.

Though he did not reveal the identity of the suspects, Abu Naim fingered Israel, saying the “occupation is the one beneficiary” of the attempted hit.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh phoned Hamdallah hours after the explosion and issued a statement claiming the two had agreed to “blame Israel and its collaborators” for being behind the explosion. But Yusef al Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government, later denied that Hamdallah had received any phone call from Haniyeh, and the PA has said it holds Hamas responsible for the attack since it rules Gaza.

The Hamas Interior Ministry in Gaza said it had launched a “high-level investigative committee” into the bomb attack, which was a further blow to faltering reconciliation talks between Hamas and president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

It said a number of suspects were being questioned after the roadside bomb targeted Hamdallah’s convoy shortly after he entered Gaza, leaving him uninjured but lightly wounding six guards.

“The door is open to anyone who wants to participate in the investigation,” said Abu Naim in an earlier statement.

A minister in Hamdallah’s government told Voice of Palestine radio that Hamas informed them there were two 33-pound bombs, the second of which was planted 33 yards away but failed to explode.

A senior Palestinian official told the Ynet news site that Hamas had arrested several employees of a pair of cellular companies, who the terror group suspects allowed the bomb planters to use their services in order to communicate.

The source added that a cell phone of one of the companies was used to detonate the explosives. Hamas security forces arrested several workers from these Gaza companies after they refused to cooperate in the investigation.

A senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term “due to the security problems.”

A number of officials have been travelling to the enclave in recent months to discuss reconciliation.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s internationally recognized government more than a decade ago but agreed in October to hand power back.

Yet the deal has all but collapsed, with the two sides accusing each other of responsibility, and Tuesday’s explosion further exacerbated tensions.

After the attack, Abbas said he held Hamas responsible as the de facto power in the strip, though stopping short of directly accusing the group of carrying out the bombing.

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)

Hamas shot back, saying such rapid accusations were unhelpful before in turn blaming Israel.

Other potential suspects include smaller, more radical terror groups that are opposed to Hamas but operate in Gaza, or a Hamas splinter group.

There has been no claim of responsibility.

Hamdallah said the attack would not end his government’s commitment to continue with reconciliation and again called on Hamas to hand over all power in Gaza.

“We are talking about internal security — the police and the civil defense,” he said. “Without security there won’t be a government.”

Salafist suspects?

Jamal al-Fadi, a political scientist in Gaza, said the aim of the attack was to “sabotage any chance for reconciliation.”

He said potential suspects are those who have an interest in maintaining the split.

“It could be a group that split from Hamas for ideological reasons, such as a militant Salafi group,” he told AFP.

In October, Abu Naim, the Hamas security chief who issued Wednesday’s statement, was wounded by a car bomb after leaving a mosque.

Hamas officials privately admit the assassination attempt was by Salafists, rather than Israel, and like Tuesday’s attack the explosion was relatively small.

The UN envoy to the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned Tuesday’s attack and called on Hamas to hand over control in Gaza to the recognised government.

The UN’s Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov is interviewed following the INSS conference in Tel Aviv on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Mladenov has warned of the consequences of the desperate humanitarian suffering in the strip, saying in January that Gaza “risks exploding in our face again.”

Hamdallah traveled to Rome Wednesday for a meeting of international donors aimed at raising funds for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, which is facing desperate shortages after the US froze tens of millions of dollars in aid.

The White House held a conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza on Tuesday, but no Palestinian officials attended.

They have refused to meet with US President Donald Trump’s administration since he broke with longstanding US policy in December by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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