Palestinian Premier Escapes Assassination in Visit to Gaza

(Bloomberg) -- The Palestinian Authority’s premier escaped an apparent assassination attempt in the Gaza Strip Tuesday, when a bomb struck his convoy on a mission to bolster reconciliation efforts with the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The roadside device exploded as Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and intelligence chief Majed Faraj entered Gaza in a motorcade after passing through the fortified Erez crossing from Israel. The assault came hours before a White House conference on trying to rescue Gaza from economic chaos. Trump administration envoy Jason Greenblatt condemned the attack on Hamdallah in a Twitter message.

Both officials survived unscathed on the rare visit from the West Bank, and went ahead with a ceremony to open a waste-water treatment plant in Gaza. There was no claim of responsibility, but a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency said the Palestinian Authority held Hamas, which seized control of the tiny coastal enclave 11 years ago, accountable.

“Those who are in charge shoulder the full responsibility for security on the ground,” Faraj said in the statement, a clear reference to Hamas.

Hamas condemned the attack, and issued a statement saying it “deplored” the PA’s accusations that it was to blame.

The incident comes amid a fragile Egyptian-brokered reconciliation effort between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, and the Islamist Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. Hamas still controls Gaza, a 40-kilometer (25-mile) long sliver of territory with almost 2 million people, even after signing the latest in a series of reconciliation agreements last year with the PA.

In a speech at the water treatment plant, Hamdallah said that the blast damaged three of the more than 20 vehicles in his convoy just minutes after it entered Gaza.

“I say in spite of the explosion today, it won’t stop us from carrying on our mission to achieve unity,” Hamdallah said. “We are committed to solving all of Gaza’s problems.”

Palestinian Boycott

The attack was condemned by Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “Until the legitimate Palestinian Authority is fully empowered in Gaza, Hamas has the responsibility to ensure that the government is able to carry out its work in the Strip without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence,” he said in an emailed statement.

Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the senior aides to U.S. President Donald Trump who have been working for more than a year on a peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, convened what was described as a brainstorming-session at the White House Tuesday to find solutions for Gaza’s troubles.

“We condemn attack against @RamiHamdalla,” Greenblatt said in the tweet. “Gazans have been brought to the brink of collapse by Hamas, PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) & other extremist groups. Attack on PA delegation opening water treatment plant is an attack on the welfare of the people of Gaza.”

The Palestinian Authority said it would boycott the Washington meeting to protest Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its Tel Aviv embassy there. Palestinians want to establish the capital of their own future state in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.