GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP – Palestinian officials said they foiled an assassination attempt Sunday against a top security chief loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, discovering a large roadside bomb planted shortly before the commander’s motorcade was to pass through the area.
The discovery of the 154-pound device was likely to further inflame tensions between Abbas and the rival Hamas-led government. On Saturday, Abbas’ intelligence chief in Gaza was seriously wounded in an explosion.
The roadside bomb was found shortly before senior Gaza commander Rashid Abu Shbak’s motorcade left from his house in an exclusive neighborhood. The road is checked each morning before he heads to work.
Officials said the bomb was removed, and an investigation was underway.
Abu Shbak is at the center of a power struggle that has escalated since Hamas defeated Abbas’ Fatah movement in January legislative elections. Abbas, a political moderate, was elected in separate presidential elections last year and wields significant authority, including formal control over some of the security forces.
The dispute has focused in large part on control of the security forces. In April, Abbas angered Hamas by placing Abu Shbak in charge of three security agencies that report to the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry. Hamas responded by announcing formation of its own security force.
The 3,000-member Hamas militia was deployed for the first time last week, despite orders from Abbas not to form the unit. In response, forces loyal to Abbas came out in large numbers, raising tensions.
Fatah officials have hinted that they believe Hamas was behind Saturday’s attack and Sunday’s attempted bombing, but have not openly accused Hamas of involvement.
“There is a clear conspiracy aimed to target Fatah leaders and the security chief in the Gaza Strip with suspicious objects. What happened today near Abu Shbak’s house and yesterday with the intelligence services is proof of this,” said Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa.
Hamas officials did not immediately comment on Sunday’s roadside bomb. The group has called for an investigation into Saturday’s attack against intelligence chief Tareq Abu Rajab, who was wounded when an explosion tore through an elevator shaft at his headquarters. Abu Rajab was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment.