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Blast Injures Palestinian Intelligence Chief

A bodyguard is killed in the Gaza attack, which raises fears of increased Hamas-Fatah clashes.

May 21, 2006|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — The head of the Palestinian intelligence service was seriously injured and a bodyguard killed Saturday in an explosion in the Gaza Strip that the agency labeled an attempted assassination.

The incident, coming amid tensions between rival Palestinian factions, stoked worries of further clashes between the new Hamas-led government and the once-dominant Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Gen. Tareq abu Rajab, an Abbas ally who commands the general intelligence service, was stepping into an elevator in the agency's heavily guarded compound in Gaza City when the blast occurred, Palestinian security officials said.

The explosion killed a member of Abu Rajab's bodyguard detail and wounded eight other people, said officials at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, where the injured were taken. Abu Rajab was later transferred to a hospital in Tel Aviv.

Two years ago, Abu Rajab was shot during an apparent assassination attempt. Suspicions at the time fell on Hamas, but the Islamic militant group denied involvement.

The intelligence chief's deputy, Tawfiq Tirawi, said Saturday that a bomb had been planted beneath the elevator, but he stopped short of accusing Hamas of responsibility for the blast. "We are facing a catastrophe," he told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the Hamas government, initially suggested that one of the bodyguards had accidentally dropped a grenade and it went off. But he later backtracked, saying the cause was unclear.

Abbas, who is in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik for a meeting of the World Economic Forum, and the Interior Ministry both ordered an investigation.

The incident comes at a time of back-and-forth violence between armed men affiliated with Fatah and Hamas, many of them members of the patchwork of Palestinian security agencies. A power struggle between Abbas and the new Hamas-led government has centered largely on control of the overlapping security forces, which have about 70,000 members.

Hamas, which took over the government after defeating Fatah in parliamentary elections in January, last week deployed a new security force in the Gaza Strip despite Abbas' veto. Abbas then sent hundreds of his security men into the streets of Gaza in a show of strength, but Hamas leaders remained defiant.

Tensions rose again Friday after Palestinian border officials under Abbas caught a top Hamas spokesman trying to smuggle more than $800,000 in euros into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Palestinian authorities confiscated the money pending an investigation into the smuggling attempt by Sami abu Zuhri.

Abu Zuhri, who was returning from Qatar, said the funds were donations he received there to help ease the Palestinian financial crisis. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the cash was intended to subsidize the families of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The Hamas-led government has faced deep financial troubles from the moment it took office. Most foreign aid has been cut off and Israel has withheld the transfer of about $50 million monthly in tax revenue and customs duties that it collects for the Palestinian Authority under a long-standing economic agreement.

As a result, 165,000 Palestinian Authority employees, including members of the security forces, have gone unpaid for more than two months, further hobbling the withered economy and prompting warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

Hamas leaders have rejected demands by Western nations that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and promise to adhere to previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The group's charter calls for Israel's destruction.

Late Saturday, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City killed four people, including a Palestinian militant, medical officials said. Mohammed Dahdouh, a commander of Islamic Jihad's military wing, died when a missile struck his vehicle. The explosion severely damaged a car passing nearby, killing three people inside, including a 4-year-old boy, and wounding at least two others, officials said.

The Israeli military said Dahdouh was involved in firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. His brother, Khaled, also an Islamic Jihad fighter, died in an explosion in March, but Israel denied involvement.

Times special correspondents Fayed abu Shammaleh in Gaza City and Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed to this report.

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