GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Palestinian intelligence chief was seriously wounded Saturday by an explosion inside his heavily-fortified Gaza City headquarters, raising new concerns about a possible civil war.
While the cause of the blast remained unclear, members of Tareq Abu Rajab’s security team accused the Hamas-led government of trying to assassinate the intelligence chief, who is loyal to moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The man responsible is the minister of the interior, Said Siyam, the savage one,” said Issam Mohammed, one of Abu Rajab’s drivers, who was injured in a gun battle after the blast.
Khaled Abu Halal, a spokesman for Siyam, rejected such accusations and initially claimed the explosion was the result of a hand grenade dropped by a member of Abu Rajab’s security entourage. But he later retracted that statement and said the cause of the blast that killed one bodyguard and injured nine others was still under investigation.
The explosion took place as Hamas and members of the Palestinian president’s Fatah party were working to defuse growing tensions in the Gaza Strip.
Defying Abbas, Siyam last week dispatched 3,000 members of a new security force across Gaza, in effect creating competing security forces on the streets in the densely populated region along the Mediterranean coast.
Abbas and Hamas have been jostling over control of the Palestinian security forces ever since the Islamist militants stunned the world in January elections by winning control of the Palestinian legislature. That effectively put the hard-line group committed to the destruction of Israel in control of more than 65,000 Palestinian security forces.
But since most of the soldiers are loyal to Abbas and Fatah, Hamas last month announced the creation of its own 3,000-member security unit in Gaza. Abbas immediately declared the move illegal, but Siyam ignored the president and put the forces on the street last week.
Since then, Fatah and Hamas have been working to ensure that the rival forces don’t clash. On Saturday, members of the new Hamas forces worked side-by-side with soldiers from the Palestinian military.
“We are brothers,” said one 23-year-old Hamas gunman guarding a Gaza City intersection alongside Palestinian Authority soldiers. “There are no problems between Hamas and Fatah.”
The power struggle has coincided with an increasing number of shooting attacks on both Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza, but Saturday’s blast appeared to be the most serious provocation so far.
“We are in a very worrying and frightening situation,” said Fatah spokesman Maher Megdad. “The Palestinian people are on the edge of being in a very serious situation, but we have been able to come out of the dark tunnel before.”
Saturday’s blast hit Abu Rajab and his entourage after they got in an elevator in the well-guarded intelligence headquarters in Gaza. One bodyguard was immediately killed and nine others injured.
Mohammed, one of Abu Rajab’s drivers, said he was shot when their convoy came under fire as they rushed the injured to a nearby hospital.
Abu Rajab, who was the target of an assassination attempt nearly two years ago, was quickly transferred to an Israeli hospital for further treatment.
Later in the day, another gunfight broke out at a Gaza City intersection being blocked by burning tires and debris near the home of the slain bodyguard. One teenager was seriously injured when members of the bodyguard’s family exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen who tried to clear the roads.
The internal tensions are only part of the problems facing Gaza. Palestinian militants continue to fire homemade rockets into southern Israel while Israeli army units fire artillery into northern Gaza.
On Saturday evening, the Israeli military fired a missile at a car carrying an Islamic Jihad leader, killing the militant, along with three innocent bystanders, including a mother and her five-year-old son.
Israel said the militant, Mohammed Dahduh, was responsible for launching missiles into Israel.