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Palestine PM Narrowly Escapes Assassination Attempt in Gaza

A damaged vehicle of the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is removed after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018. | Photo: Reuters A damaged vehicle of the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is removed after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018. | Photo: Reuters
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah escaped an explosion Tuesday morning, as he was entering the Gaza strip along with his envoy. 

The Palestinian Authority initially blamed the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas for the attack but later placed the blame on Israel and its collaborators. Hamas has been in control of security and civil affairs in the Gaza strip for more than a decade.

According to media reports, the explosion went off when Hamdallah's convoy entered 200 meters into the Gaza Strip through Erez Crossing on the Israeli side. The prime minister entered Gaza along with Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj at around 10 a.m. local time. According to Arab media, Hamdallah and Faraj were not injured but several people were slightly wounded.

Soon after the explosion, senior Palestinian Authority officials contacted Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories, to coordinate envoy's departure from the Gaza strip. The Israeli military said medical personnel could wait at the Erez Crossing to treat those wounded in the incident. 

The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said several suspects have been arrested in connection with the explosion. "We will allow no one to destroy the national Palestinian project... we will not allow those with a foreign political agenda to dictate to us what happens in Gaza," Hamdallah said shortly after the attack according to Haaretz.

"I will return to Gaza despite what happened today and I call on Hamas to allow the government to effectively control the Gaza Strip," Hamdallah said, adding: "What happened today will not stop us from continuing reconciliation efforts."

The prime minister's visit was planned nearly five months ago to open a waste treatment plant which the Palestinian Authority helped finance. He also met with senior Hamas officials over the stalled reconciliation talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. 

"Despite what happened we will continue to build our institutions and we will press on with the reconciliation efforts with the help of Egypt," Hamdallah said. "I call on Hamas and all other factions to take part in the national Palestinian council that will convene in April because this is a critical phase for the Palestinian people." 

General Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of Gaza's Interior Ministry, will lead the investigation into the incident, Haaretz, reported.

The attack may put a strain on the already-fragile talks between Hamas and the ruling party Fatah, who in recent months, have been engaged in renewed reconciliation efforts to end a rift between them following the 2006 general elections in the Palestinian territories in which Hamas won and was shortly after ousted by Fatah in a U.S. and Israeli backed coup. Hamas then retreated to Gaza and set up a parallel government there. 

Hamdallah is a key figure in Palestinian politics and is seen as a bridge between the country's two main parties. He was born in Anabta village of the Tul-Karm province in the northern West Bank, in 1958. Before entering politics, he was a linguistics professor and the president of An-Najah National University.

Just two weeks after he was sworn in as the prime minister in 2013, Hamdallah gave his resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, citing lack of authority, only to be asked by Abbas during political turmoil later to form a new Palestinian government, which he accepted.

According to Haaretz, the prime minister is seen as a contender for the presidency given current President Mahmoud Abbas's sickness.

Haaretz noted Hamdallah's rise in stature could be attributed to his close ties with "two of the strongmen in Fatah and in the coterie of the late PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. One is Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the government headed by Arafat, and today the secretary general of Abbas’ bureau (and also a native of Anabta, like Hamdallah).

The other is Tawfik Tirawi, who, at the time of the establishment of the PA, was the chief of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank, and who maintains his power in the Fatah movement as Abbas’ security adviser."

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