Hamas widens probe into Gaza bomb attack against PM

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah addresses the media upon his arrival in the West Bank town of Ramallah following his return from the Gaza Strip where an explosion targeted his convoy. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Hamas widens probe into Gaza bomb attack against PM

GAZA CITY: Gaza’s ruling movement Hamas widened an investigation Wednesday into a bomb explosion that targeted Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah as he made a rare visit to the strip a day earlier.
The interior ministry in Gaza said it had launched a “high-level investigative committee” into the bomb attack, which was a further blow to faltering reconciliation talks between Hamas and president Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah party.
It said a number of suspects were being questioned after the roadside bomb targeted Hamdallah’s convoy shortly after he entered Gaza, leaving him uninjured but lightly wounding six guards.
It did not provide further details on the investigation Wednesday or release the identity of the suspects.
“The door is open to anyone who wants to participate in the investigation,” Tawfeeq Abu Naim, the head of the Hamas security services in Gaza, said in a statement.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s internationally recognized government more than a decade ago but agreed in October to hand power back.
Yet the deal has all but collapsed, with the two sides accusing each other of responsibility, and Tuesday’s explosion further exacerbated tensions.
After the attack, Abbas said he held Hamas responsible as the de facto power in the strip, though stopping short of directly accusing the group of carrying out the bombing.
Hamas shot back, saying such rapid accusations were unhelpful before in turn pointing the finger of blame at Israel.
Other potential suspects include smaller, more radical extremist groups that are opposed to Hamas but operate in Gaza, or a Hamas splinter group.
There has been no claim of responsibility.
Hamdallah said the attack would not end his government’s commitment to continue with reconciliation and again called on Hamas to hand over all power in Gaza.
“We are talking about internal security — the police and the civil defense,” he said. “Without security there won’t be a government.”
Jamal Al-Fadi, a political scientist in Gaza, said the aim of the attack was to “sabotage any chance for reconciliation.”
He said potential suspects are those that have an interest in maintaining the split.
“It could be a group that split from Hamas for ideological reasons, such as a militant Salafi group,” he said.
In October, Abu Naim, the Hamas security chief who issued Wednesday’s statement, was wounded by a car bomb after leaving a mosque.
Hamas officials privately admit the assassination attempt was by Salafists, rather than Israel, and like Tuesday’s attack the explosion was relatively small.
The UN envoy to the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned Tuesday’s attack and called on Hamas to hand over control in Gaza to the recognized government.
Mladenov has warned of the consequences of the desperate humanitarian suffering in the strip, saying in January that Gaza “risks exploding in our face again.”
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 while the Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade of Gaza.
Hamdallah traveled to Rome Wednesday for a meeting of international donors aimed at raising funds for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, which is facing desperate shortages after the US froze tens of millions of dollars in aid.
The White House held a conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza on Tuesday, but no Palestinian officials attended.
They have refused to meet with President Donald Trump’s administration since he broke with longstanding US policy in December by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


Erdogan: Turkish court will decide fate of detained US pastor

Updated 8 min 58 sec ago
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Erdogan: Turkish court will decide fate of detained US pastor

  • ‘This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges’
  • ‘Let’s wait and see what the court will decide’

NEW YORK: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has roiled relations between Ankara and Washington.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson this month. He was moved to house arrest in July after being detained for 21 months.
In an interview on Tuesday while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings, Erdogan said any decision on Brunson would be made by the court.
“This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges ... On Oct 12 there will be another hearing and we don’t know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict,” Erdogan said.
If found guilty, Brunson could be jailed for up to 35 years. He denies the charges.
“As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide,” Erdogan said.
US President Donald Trump, infuriated over Brunson’s detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on US cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.
The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year on concerns over Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.
“The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” Erdogan said.
Turkey’s central bank raised its benchmark rate by a hefty 625 basis points this month, boosting the lira and possibly easing investor concern over Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy.
Erdogan said the decision was a clear sign of the central bank’s independence, adding that as president he was against increasing rates.
He also said Turkey will continue to purchase Iranian natural gas, despite US sanctions on Tehran.
Erdogan said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, adding that the withdrawal of “radical groups” had already started from a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region.