Hamas security chief hurt in Gaza bombing

3 min

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

A car bombing Friday wounded the Hamas security head in the Gaza Strip, as the Islamist group and a rival Palestinian faction are trying to implement a thorny reconciliation deal.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement signed a reconciliation accord with Hamas on October 12, aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

Under the deal, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is to resume control of Gaza -- which Hamas seized in a near civil war with Fatah in 2007 -- by December 1.

But the fate of the Hamas security forces after it transfers power to Fatah in the territory is one of the most delicate issues facing the reconciliation process.

Abbas wants the handover to be comprehensive and include all security institutions, but the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has said "no one" can force his group to disarm.

Friday's bombing that wounded Hamas security chief Tawfiq Abu Naim came as tensions simmer, and was immediately branded by the Hamas interior ministry "a failed assassination attempt".

"Tawfiq Abu Naim, director general of the internal security forces, survived a failed assassination attempt Friday after his car was blown up in the Nusseirat refugee camp," a ministry statement said.

"He was moderately wounded and was treated in hospital," said the statement by spokesman Iyad al-Bozum.

The ministry did not give details of the source of the explosion in central Gaza, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

"The security services immediately began investigations to discover the circumstances of the incident and to catch the perpetrators," Bozum said.

Another ministry spokesman, Fawzi Barhum, called the attack a "cowardly act carried out by the enemies of the Palestinian people" aimed at undermining the reconciliation deal.

- Sticking point -

The office of Hamas chief Ismail Haniya released a picture showing him visiting a bandaged but smiling Abu Naim at Al-Shifa Hospital.

Abu Naim is known to be close to Sinwar who has adamantly rejected any attempt to disarm Hamas.

"No one in the universe can disarm us. On the contrary, we will continue to have the power to protect our citizens," Sinwar said a week ago during a speech to young people that was provided to AFP.

A major sticking point facing the reconciliation deal is expected to be the fate of Hamas's 25,000-strong armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Sinwar is one of the founders of the military wing, and widely seen as the Hamas supremo in Gaza.

In addition, Abu Naim heads a 20,000-strong security force tasked with policing the enclave.

The reconciliation deal will face one of its first tests next Wednesday when Hamas is expected to hand over control of Gaza borders to Abbas's Palestinian Authority.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Hamas is blacklisted as a "terrorist" organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Abu Naim is the second Hamas leader to be targeted this year in Gaza, after military commander Mazen Faqha was shot dead near his home in March.

Hamas blamed Faqha's killing on its arch-enemy Israel, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, and implemented strict border restrictions on those seeking to leave Gaza.

In May, Hamas executed three Palestinian men in the blockaded territory convicted of carrying out the assassination on behalf of Israel, which never confirmed or denied any involvement.