Explosion Targets Palestinian Prime Minister’s Convoy in Gaza Strip

Updated | An explosion hit the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday in Gaza City, in an attack his political party has blamed on rivals, the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Three of the vehicles in Hamdallah’s convoy were damaged in the attack, Associated Press reported. One had signs of blood on the door, while the others had their windows blown out. Initial reports indicated several individuals were lightly wounded in the attack.

Related: War could break out in Gaza in hours, Hamas preparing for “imminent” conflict with Israel

The explosion occurred as the Palestinian prime minister made a rare visit to the Gaza Strip. While Hamdallah was unharmed by the blast, the incident threatens to further inflame tensions between his party, Fatah, the dominant force in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the explosion hit the convoy as Hamdallah’s vehicles drove some 600 feet into Gaza after entering through the Erez Crossing from the Israeli side.

GettyImages-931266036 Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah waves to the crowd upon his arrival in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on March 13. Hamdallah cut short the rare visit to Gaza on Tuesday after an explosion targeted his convoy, a source in the delegation said. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

The Palestinian Prime Minister and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj had been planning the visit for the past five months. They were due to open a sewage treatment works in Gaza, financed by the PA. The visit was also meant as a further gesture to Hamas on the issue of stalled reconciliation talks over Palestinian unity.

The rival factions have jostled for power since 2007 when Hamas forces seized the Gaza Strip from mainstream Fatah and have ruled over its 2 million inhabitants since then. The takeover installed a Hamas-led government in Gaza, at odds with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

However, against the backdrop of an economic crisis in Gaza, Hamas has handed back control of its border crossings to the PA. But since November 2017 talks have stalled, with the PA claiming Hamas had yet to hand over crucial powers over tax collection and security. Hamas has accused Fatah of neglecting Gaza and inflicting misery on inhabitants through sanctions.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas was quick to blame Hamas for the attack while Hamas itself condemned the explosion. It said the blast “hurt efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation,” promising an “urgent” investigation.

Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Newsweek the attack on the Fatah convoy would have a direct effect on reconciliation talks, which he said were already on “life support.”

“Whether or not Hamas was behind the bombing, the PA will hold them responsible for it. It was hard to see the two sides bridging an already substantial divide before today, it’s even harder after an assassination attempt against the PA’s prime minister,” Rumley explained.

He added that Tuesday’s attack contained echoes of a planned bombing in 2007 by Hamas, targeting Abbas. The narrowly avoided assassination provided some of the impetus for the conflict in Gaza between the two factions.

“That episode is the reason Abbas has not returned to the Gaza Strip in over a decade. I imagine he’ll look at the events of today as justification for that policy,” Rumley said.

This article has been updated to include comments by Grant Rumley.