Palestinian official injured in attack

Blast kills bodyguard, wounds 8 others

May 21, 2006|By KEN ELLINGWOOD | KEN ELLINGWOOD,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- The head of the Palestinian intelligence service was seriously hurt and a bodyguard was killed yesterday in an explosion in the Gaza Strip that the agency labeled an assassination attempt.

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

Gen. Tareq Abu Rajab, an Abbas ally who commands the Palestinian 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 contingent of bodyguards and wounded eight other people, according to officials at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, where the injured were taken. Abu Rajab was transferred later to an Israeli 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 group denied involvement.

The intelligence chief's deputy, Tawfiq Tirawi, said yesterday 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.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry, which falls under the Hamas government, initially suggested that one of the bodyguards had accidentally dropped a hand grenade and it went off. But he later backtracked, saying the cause was not clear.

Abbas ordered an investigation.

A power struggle between Abbas and the new Hamas-led government has centered largely on control of the overlapping security forces, with about 70,000 men.

Hamas, which took over the government after defeating Fatah in parliamentary elections in January, deployed a new security force last week in the Gaza Strip despite Abbas' veto.

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

The Hamas-led government has faced deep financial troubles from the moment it took office because of a cutoff in most foreign aid and Israel's decision to withhold the transfer of about $50 million monthly in tax revenues and customs duties that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

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

Late yesterday, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City killed four people, including a Palestinian militant, medical officials said. Mohammad 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, officials said.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times. Special correspondents Fayed abu Shammalah in Gaza City and Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed.

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