Hamas holding 4 suspects in attack on Palestinian PM – sources

Senior PA officials say that even if bombers weren’t Hamas members, they couldn’t have operated without terror group’s blessing

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

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)

Hamas is holding at least four suspects in connection with last week’s apparent attempt to assassinate Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj near the Erez Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel that some of the detainees have confessed their involvement in the bombing attack and that Hamas claims they are members of the extremist global terror group Salafia Jihadia.

Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, arrested and interrogated almost 30 Palestinians immediately after the attack on Hamdallah’s convoy, but apparently only four were kept in custody.

The West Bank-based PA, which has blamed Hamas for the attack, rejected the terror group’s conclusions, with senior PA sources saying its claims seemed implausible.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah waves to the crowd upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

“The incident took place on a major route in Gaza, Salah a-Din, about one kilometer from the Erez Crossing,” one source said. “It is an area where Hamas is fully in control of security, the route going south from the Erez Crossing into the city. It is impossible for this bomb to have been planted without the knowledge of any Hamas official.”

The PA estimates that even if Hamas used terror operatives from some Salafi faction, they were acting for Hamas or someone in the organization.

Hamas’s security chief in Gaza, Tawfiq Abu Naim, said on Saturday that two large bombs had been planted but only one of them detonated due to a technical malfunction. They were placed about 37 meters away from one another.

According to eyewitnesses, the device was detonated seconds before the armored vehicle containing Hamdallah and Faraj passed. Ten security guards and staff accompanying the two, who were in non-armored vehicles, were lightly wounded.

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)

On Monday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at Hamas over the incident. The PA says there are many officials in Hamas trying to torpedo the reconciliation attempts between the two rival Palestinian factions.

Among those named as trying to sabotage the process are former Gaza interior minister Fathi Hamad, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Moussa Abu Marzouk, one of the group’s leaders abroad.

The PA rejected Egyptian claims of friction and discord between senior Hamas figure Saleh al-Arouri, who lives abroad and is in charge of orchestrating terror attacks in the West Bank, and the group’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

Hamas representative Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Meanwhile, Abd el-Rahman Ghanimat, co-founder and head of Hamas’s “West Bank section,” has left Gaza.

The section was established after a 2011 prisoner swap deal in which kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was returned to Israel in exchange for over 1,000 convicted terrorists. It is composed of military wing members formerly from the West Bank who were expelled to Gaza.

Ghanimat had headed the section along with Mazen Faqha, who was assassinated a year ago. Hamas has blamed the killing on Israel, which hasn’t confirmed it was behind the attack.

A possible reason for Ghanimat’s departure could be fear that he too will be targeted. He has likely moved to Beirut, where Saleh al-Arouri is currently coordinating the group’s operations. The “West Bank section” also operates from Turkey, mainly from Istanbul.

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