Explosion blasts Palestinian intelligence service HQ

Saturday, May 20, 2006

An explosion has ripped through the headquarters of the Palestinian general intelligence service in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials say several people were wounded in the explosion, including intelligence chief Tareq Abu Rajab.

Abu Rajab, the head of the "mukhabarat" intelligence service, was among 11 people wounded at his heavily guarded headquarters in northern Gaza. He was with several bodyguards in an elevator when an explosion blasted the building. Abu Rajab's bodyguard and nephew, Ali Abu Hassira, died shortly after the blast. At least eight other people, most of them bodyguards, were wounded in what has been called an assassination attempt.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the convoy of vehicles transporting Abu Rajab to hospital, causing no injuries. The explosion followed a night of armed clashes between gunmen from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions.

Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina condemned the blast and called for launching an immediate inquiry into the bombing. "The assassination attempt of the head of the Palestinian intelligence services chief Tareq Abu Rajab is a serious escalation and an attempt to undermine national security," Abu Rudeina said.

The attack "will lead to a degeneration of the situation in the Palestinian territories" added Abu Rudeina, currently with Palestinian Authority president Abbas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh ahead of an international economic conference. "President Abbas ordered an immediate investigation," he said.

Tawfiq Tirawi, a top security official in the West Bank who serves as Rajab's deputy, indicated at a news conference that an alternative security force of Hamas militants might be responsible. Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad was cautious not to call the blast an assassination attempt, saying that "hasty accusations" should be avoided.

Some Fatah members demanded that Abbas dissolve the Hamas government and call a new election. A group calling itself the Fatah Protection Unit demanded that Hamas disband its 3,000-strong militia within three days. The militia was deployed earlier this week, despite Abbas' vehement opposition.

Reuters reports that the Hamas-led Palestinian government faces international action unless the militant Islamist movement renounces violence, recognises Israel and embraces existing peace plans.