Hamas official escapes assassination attempt in Lebanon

Hamas has blamed Israel for the explosion in Sidon that wounded Mohammed Hamdan in his leg. (AN photo)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Hamas official escapes assassination attempt in Lebanon

BEIRUT: A Hamas official narrowly escaped death when his car exploded in Sidon, south Lebanon, on Sunday afternoon. 
He escaped the assassination attempt with leg injuries and underwent surgery at Hammoud Hospital in Sidon.
The explosion, from a 500-gram device placed under the driver’s seat, targeted Hamas member Mohammed Omar Hamdan, (aka “Abu hamzah“). It happened while Hamdan was entering his car, which was parked in Albustan Alkabir neighborhood. 
Reporters at the scene said Hamdan told his rescuers he was trying to open his car boot to clean it when the explosion happened.
Jihad Taha, Hamas deputy political official in Lebanon, said: “Hamdan is a member of the movement, and he works at the office of its political official in Lebanon, Ahmad Abdul Hadi.”
Ghassan Ayoub, from the Palestinian People’s Party at Ain Al-Hilweh camp, told Arab News that Hamdan was not active in Sidon; rather, his activities are limited to Beirut. 
“The explosion aimed to kill the target, not just injure him,” Ayoub noted. 
“If Israel targeted Hamdan, it wouldn’t be the first time Israel failed to kill its target.”

The official Lebanese National News Agency reported later that “the explosion resulted from a 500-gram explosive device which was placed under the driver’s seat.”
The Lebanese army command said in a statement: “The explosive device went off in a grey BMW in Albustan Alkabir, which resulted in the injury of its Palestinian owner Mohammad Hamdan. The army forces imposed a security cordon around the area, and the military expert checked the location of the explosion to determine its size and nature.”
Hamdan was the only casualty in the blast, although his wife and one of his children were following him.
A security source said “The forensic evidence section collected the videos recorded by local cameras and listened to witnesses who were present at the scene. The investigation is trying to find out whether the explosion was caused by remote control or due to friction, as well as deciding the time Hamdan parked his car, and whether another person was driving the car.”
Taha accused the Israelis of targeting Hamdan, and so did Ayman Shana’a, a Hamas political official, who stressed that “we are waiting for the results of the investigations of the security forces.”
Hamas declared in a statement that “the initial indicators point to the presence of Zionist links behind the criminal act.” 


US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

Updated 56 min 18 sec ago
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US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

  • The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy
  • The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence

WASHINGTON: The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access to the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.
The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and "reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals."
The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy.
But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran's expanding missile programs, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.
"We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf," one US official said, adding, however, that "the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns."
Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
Still, the US official noted that the agreement would expand US military options in the region for any kind of crisis.
Duqm is an ideal port for large ships. It is even big enough to turn around an aircraft carrier, a second official said.
"The port itself is very attractive and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz," the official said, adding that negotiations began under the Obama administration.
For Oman, the deal will further advance its efforts to transform Duqm, once just a fishing village 550 km (345 miles) south of capital Muscat, into a key Middle East industrial and port center, as its diversifies its economy beyond oil and gas exports.
The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence.
Chinese firms once aimed to invest up to $10.7 billion in the Duqm project, a massive injection of capital into Oman, in what was expected to be a commercial, not military, arrangement.
"It looks to me like the Chinese relationship here isn't as big as it appeared it was going to be a couple of years ago," the second official said.
"There's a section of the Duqm industrial zone that's been set aside for the Chinese ... and as far as I can tell so far they've done just about nothing."
Still, China has in the past shown no qualms about rubbing up against US military facilities.
In 2017, the African nation of Djibouti, positioned at another geostrategic choke-point, the strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, became home to China's first overseas military base. The US military already had a base located just miles away, which has been crucial for operations against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.