Middle East

Blast targets Palestinian prime minister’s convoy during rare Gaza visit

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – An explosion targeted Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy as he arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday for a rare visit, lightly wounding seven people, officials and witnesses said.

Hamdallah was not injured in the explosion, which occurred shortly after his convoy entered the territory run by Islamist movement Hamas, a security source in the convoy said.

Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj was part of the convoy but was also unhurt, the security source said.

A separate security source in Gaza said the convoy was also fired on by unknown gunmen at the time of the explosion.Hamas security forces then sealed off the area.

A statement on official Palestinian media said president Mahmoud Abbas considered it a “cowardly targeting” of Hamdallah’s convoy and held his rivals Hamas responsible.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Radical Islamists opposed to Hamas also operate within the Gaza Strip and have regularly been behind unrest.

Hamdallah appeared on television shortly after the explosion as he opened a wastewater treatment plant in the territory, but left shortly after – cutting short his visit, a source in his delegation said.

He had been expected to hold a number of other engagements before leaving.

The Hamas interior ministry confirmed there had been an explosion and said they had arrested three suspects as they began an investigation.

Same hands

A statement from Hamas condemned the attack, saying it was done by the “same hands” responsible for the assassination of one senior Hamas figure, Mazen Faqha, and the attempted assassination of another last year.

Hamas blamed the killing of Faqha on Israel. The second attack, an explosion targeting Hamas’s head of security in Gaza, is widely believed to have been the work of radical Islamists.

Hamas criticised Abbas’s accusation, saying it “achieved the goals of the criminals.”

The explosion came a few hundred meters after Hamdallah’s convoy crossed through the Palestinian Authority-run checkpoint into Hamas-controlled territory.

Two cars with blown-out windows were being removed from the scene of the explosion shortly afterwards, an AFP correspondent reported.

The visit came as reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party falter.

The two major Palestinian factions signed a deal in October that was supposed to see the Islamists hand over power, but it has all but collapsed.

One of the key changes in that agreement was Hamas handing over control at Gaza’s borders to the Palestinian Authority in November.

But Hamas maintains full control of the rest of Gaza, with its police force and armed wing still operating throughout the territory.

The future of that armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, has proved one of the largest sticking points in implementing the reconciliation agreement.

Hamas seized Gaza from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 and multiple attempts at reconciliation have since failed.

Hamdallah’s government is recognised by the international community, while Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States.

The White House is due to hold a conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza on Tuesday, but it is unclear whether any Palestinian officials will break their boycott of U.S. officials to attend.

The Palestinians were enraged by President Donald Trump’s decision to break with longstanding U.S. policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007, which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, while Egypt has also kept its border with the enclave largely closed.

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