Palestinian PM escapes Gaza bomb attack

An explosion occurred on a Gaza road shortly after a convoy carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah passed by. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018

Palestinian PM escapes Gaza bomb attack

GAZA CITY: Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt during a rare visit to Gaza on Tuesday when a roadside bomb detonated next to his convoy.
The prime minister was unhurt in the blast and continued with some of his official duties, but six of his guards were slightly wounded.
The attack happened in northern Gaza, just a few hundred meters from the Erez crossing to Israel.
The convoy, which had just crossed into Gaza, included the head of the Palestinian intelligence service Majid Faraj.
Three cars were damaged in the explosion and the six injured guards were taken to the West Bank where they were treated in hospital in Ramallah.
Al-Hamdallah and Faraj continued on to the opening ceremony of the internationally funded sewage treatment plant but left Gaza soon after without meeting any Hamas leaders.
Hamas has been in control of Gaza since 2007, after seizing the territory in clashes with the rival Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank.
The two sides reached an Egyptian-brokered deal in October, which was supposed to see Hamas hand over powers to the Palestinian Authority.
But after giving up security oversight of the Gaza border crossings in November, the deal has faltered and Hamas maintains full control of the territory. Yesterday’s bombing is expected to further derail prospects of Palestinian unity, which many feel is essential for any progress in peace talks with Israel.
“What happened is a disgraceful act and will only increase our determination to serve the Gaza Strip,” Al-Hamadallah said at the opening ceremony of the wastewater plant.
The bombing “will only increase our resolve to continue our work in the service of the Gaza Strip and end the division, and we will continue to work with determination to complete our government projects,” he said.
Hamas condemned the attack, accusing “Israel and its agents” carrying it out.
“This crime is an integral part of the attempts to tamper with the security of the Gaza Strip and to strike any efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation,” the group said.
Hamas’s Interior Ministry in Gaza said it had opened an urgent investigation into the incident and arrested a number of suspects.
Major General Tawfiq Abu Naim, commander of the internal security forces in Gaza, said “There will be an investigation.
“I have had three inspection tours of the place to secure the road since yesterday. This incident serves only the occupation,” he added, referring to Israel.
Witnesses said the bomb was planted under an electricity pole on Gaza’s main north-south road. The device went off shortly after Hamdallah’s 20-vehicle convoy had entered through the crossing, AP reported.
“I could not see anything because smoke and dust filled the air. When the smoke cleared, the explosion was followed by heavy gunfire, apparently from police securing the convoy. When the dust cleared, I saw people running everywhere, and police were running around,” said a witness.
Two vehicles were badly damaged and could not continue. One had bloodstains on the door. At least two bodyguards were slightly wounded.

Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

Updated 53 min 44 sec ago

Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

  • The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria
  • The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups

JARABLUS, SYRIA: Opposition commander Adnan Abu Faisal and his army are encamped near the frontline in northern Syria, waiting to launch an offensive on his home city of Manbij.

But they are not the ones who will decide whether to march on the strategically important city, held for more than two years by Kurdish forces supported by the US.

The decision will depend on Turkey, the main backer of Abu Faisal’s group, and on how contacts evolve between Washington and Ankara over the US plans to withdraw forces from Syria, a move set to reshape a major theater of the war.

The US and Turkey are allies both in the NATO defense alliance and in the fight against Daesh, but Ankara sees the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces that helped the US-led coalition drive Daesh out of Manbij in 2016 as a security threat.

The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria, including Manbij, but US President Donald Trump has warned Turkey of “economic devastation” if it goes ahead with the attack.

Abu Faisal’s fighters are awaiting orders near Jarablus, a town held by Turkey and its Syrian opposition allies about 35 km south of Manbij. The frontline in the area runs through open farmland where wheat and corn are usually grown.

“We are ready with our forces ... for ‘zero hour’ to begin any military action,” Abu Faisal, whose forces have more than 300 vehicles including pickup trucks and armored vehicles provided by Turkey, told Reuters.

“Preparations are going at full speed,” he said.

Abu Faisal, 36, was an army captain before Syria’s civil war began in 2011 but defected from the Syrian Army in 2012 to join the fight against Bashar Assad.

Abu Faisal helped wrest control of Manbij from the Syrian Army early in the conflict but fled when it was seized by Daesh in 2014 and has not set foot there since then.

The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups that hold the city 30 km from the border with Turkey.

Manbij lies near the junction of three separate blocks of territory that form spheres of Russian, Turkish and, for now, US influence.

The US military pullout will not only leave Kurds exposed to possible confrontation with Turkey but will also open the way for the expansion of Russian and Iranian sway into the areas that US forces will be leaving.

The US military deployed into Syria as part of the fight against Daesh but officials later indicated wider objectives included containing Iran, Assad’s main regional ally. 

Late last month, the YPG called on Assad’s forces to protect Manbij from attack by Turkey. Syrian government forces, which are backed by Russia, answered the YPG appeal by deploying outside Manbij.

Abu Faisal’s fighters, backed by Turkish forces, made their own advance toward the city the same day but stopped short of an attack.