Palestinian leader survives roadside attack

Palestinian leader survives roadside attack
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, escorted by his bodyguards, is greeted by police forces of the Islamist Hamas movement upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13. (Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived a roadside bombing Tuesday, after his convoy was hit by an explosive device as it passed the border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

At about 10 a.m., Hamdallah and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj entered the Palestinian territory for a long-planned visit to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant partly funded by the Palestinian Authority. The authority is led by Hamdallah and President Mahmoud Abbas.


The visit also aimed to continue to revive stalled talks between Abbas' ruling party and Hamas, the Islamist militia that rules Gaza. The talks have halted since a promising start in October.

The device was initially thought to have been hurled from a passing motorcycle about 600 feet past the Erez-Beit Hanoun checkpoint.

Hamdallah and Faraj were not injured and appeared on live television shortly after the incident. Five people in the convoy's last vehicle were slightly injured, according to Palestinian media.

Abbas' party, the West Bank-based Fatah, called it a "terrorist attack" and an attempted assassination for which it held Hamas responsible.

"This attack is an attempt to kill all reconciliation efforts," said Munir Jaghoub, director of Fatah's information department in the Office of Mobilization and Organization. "It is a dangerous step aimed at spreading disorder and fighting among our people."

Israeli and Palestinian observers said the attack may have been carried out by any of several independent militias challenging Hamas' rule in Gaza.

Jaghoub nonetheless held Hamas responsible, demanding Hamas expedite its investigation.

"The developments have proven that Hamas has completely failed in providing security in Gaza, just as it has failed in providing a decent life for our people in the Strip," he said.

By Tuesday evening, however, tones shifted. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, following a conversation between Hamdallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the two agreed to "blame Israel and its collaborators" for the attack.

"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 later in the day, calling on all factions to help sustain this "critical phase for the Palestinian people."

Global reaction to the attack was swift.

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Mideast envoy, said until the "legitimate" Palestinian Authority takes power in Gaza, Hamas is responsible for enabling the internationally backed government to work without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence, according to the Associated Press.

"This attack, once again, demonstrates that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza," said White House envoy Jason Greenblatt in Washington. "But we cannot be deterred, and the Palestinian Authority should not be deterred."

Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, echoed Jaghoub's sentiment that the attack was a "deliberate attempt" to undermine reconciliation between the divided Palestinian factions.


"For the European Union it is clear: Those who work to exacerbate divisions through violence are working against the interest of the people of Gaza and of all Palestinians," she said.

Tarnopolosky is a special correspondent.


12:35 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting.

This article originally published at 2:05 a.m.