Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt in northern Gaza on Tuesday morning, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Hamdallah, who was making a short trip to the coastal enclave to mark the opening of a new water treatment facility, had just passed through the Erez border crossing from Israel when a bomb detonated near his convoy, tearing the siding off at least one black SUV and blowing out the car’s windows.
No one was injured in the attack, said Iyad Al-Bozom, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and National Security, in a Facebook post. Palestinian Authority Minister of Intelligence Majid Faraj, a close ally of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbbas, was also in the convoy.
Hamdallah addressed the attack in his speech at the opening of the water treatment plant, saying, “This incident will not stop me from entering Gaza. If I did not need to travel tomorrow, then I would stay in Gaza for several days.”
Echoing a message of defiance made popular by Yasser Arafat, Hamdallah declared: “Those who do not like the idea of me being here should go and drink from the Gaza seawater.”
In a sign of longstanding animosity between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Fatah – which governs the West Bank and controls the Palestinian Authority – immediately blamed the Islamist movement in Gaza for the attack.
“Hamas is fully responsible for this cowardly operation that targets the homeland, reconciliation and unity,” said Fatah spokesman and Revolutionary Council member Osama al-Qawasmi. “This cowardly act is outside of our values and national relations and has repercussions.”
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, “The Palestinian presidency condemned the attack and held Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, responsible. The attack on the consensus government is an attack on the unity of the Palestinian people.”
Hamas fired back, condemning the attack, but also criticizing the Palestinian presidency.
In a series of tweets from Hamas’ account, the Islamist movement said, “We condemn the crime of targeting the convoy of Dr. Rami Hamdallah. We consider this crime an integral part of attempts to tamper with the security of the Gaza Strip and to strike any efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation. We condemn the accusations made by the Palestinian presidency.”
The attack was condemned by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, who described it as a deliberate attempt to destroy the chances for peace between rival Palestinian factions. He did not blame Hamas directly, but said the movement was responsible for the security of Palestinian officials in Gaza.
“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,” Mladenov said in a statement.
Hamdallah is making his third visit to Gaza following the beginning of reconciliation efforts between the Authority and Hamas late last year. The two reached an agreement to form a national unity government in October after a decade of failed attempts and often bitter acrimony.
But reconciliation efforts stalled shortly thereafter, despite efforts by Egypt, which moderated the initial agreement, to keep pressing forward.
Both sides have made repeated statements about the importance of reconciliation. But the Palestinian Authority has never fully removed a series of punitive measures against Gaza intended to weaken Hamas, including limiting electricity to the coastal enclave and cutting salaries.
Hamas, for its part, has not shown a willingness to give up its weapons, including rockets and mortars, seen as one of the biggest obstacles towards reconciliation.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza, exacerbated by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, has grown swiftly worse under the measures, as water treatment plants, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure have had to shut down or reduce services.
Discussions on ways to improve conditions in Gaza, and stimulate the local economy, were due to take place at the White House on Tuesday. The conference is being led by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the two men tasked by US President Donald Trump to kick-start a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority has boycotted Tuesday’s meetings in protest at Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.