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Palestinian prime minister survives Gaza assassination attempt

Minutes after the explosion, the 59-year-old prime minister, appearing unhurt, delivered a speech at the inauguration of a waste treatment plant and pledged to continue to pursue Palestinian unity.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah waves to the crowd upon his arrival in Gaza City on 13 March 2018. Hamdallah cut short a rare visit to Gaza on Tuesday after an explosion targeted his convoy, a source in the delegation said. Picture: AFP

GAZA - Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt in Gaza on Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority said after an apparent roadside bomb targeted his motorcade.

The attack on the Western-backed leader, who is spearheading the Authority’s reconciliation efforts with Gaza’s dominant group, Hamas, happened on the day the White House is due to hold a meeting on the humanitarian situation in the enclave.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for what one Palestinian Authority security official in Gaza said was a roadside bomb blast.

Hamas condemned the attack.

Minutes after the explosion, the 59-year-old prime minister, appearing unhurt, delivered a speech at the inauguration of a waste treatment plant and pledged to continue to pursue Palestinian unity.

He said three vehicles were damaged in the explosion. The blast left a crater by the side of the road and blew out the windows of at least one utility vehicle.

The Authority said it held Hamas responsible for the attack, stopping short of directly accusing the group of carrying out the assault, but suggesting it had failed to provide adequate security.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas are still divided over how to share administrative power in the Gaza Strip under an Egyptian-brokered unity deal. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 from forces loyal to Abbas.

ELUSIVE UNITY

“The attack against the government of consensus is an attack against the unity of the Palestinian people,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas.

In a statement, Hamas said the targeting of Hamdallah’s motorcade was“ part of an attempt to damage the security of Gaza and deal a blow to efforts to finalize reconciliation”. Hamas-led security forces said they had launched an investigation.

Hamdallah, whose portrait is featured along with Abbas’s and those of Hamas leaders on Gaza posters promoting Palestinian unity, is based in the occupied West Bank.

He travelled overland, via Israel, to the Gaza Strip and police said the motorcade was attacked near the enclave’s northern town of Beit Hanoun. He later left Gaza as scheduled in another convoy, with security men clutching automatic rifles standing along the side of his vehicle.

The White House was due to hold a meeting later on Tuesday, addressed by US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who are putting together US proposals for a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

In past years, Palestinian factions opposed to peace talks with Israel have carried out attacks timed to coincide with such initiatives. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapsed in 2014.

Hamas has condemned Trump’s recent moves to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US Embassy to the city. The Palestinian Authority, which was also angered by Trump’s Jerusalem decision, has refused to participate in Tuesday’s White House meeting or to meet with Trump’s Middle East envoys.

The explosion occurred near the spot where a US diplomatic convoy was blown up by a remote-controlled bomb in 2003 shortly after it entered the Gaza Strip. Three American security specialists were killed and a US diplomat was injured in that blast.

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