RAMALLAH - Palestinian Authority officials on Saturday accused Hamas of yesterday's assassination attempt against Tarek Abu Rajab, the commander of the PA's General Intelligence Service, and called for dissolving the Hamas government and holding new elections.
"It's time to get rid of the Hamas government before they kill us all," said one official. "The situation is very dangerous and we have demanded the dismissal of this cabinet. We are certainly headed toward civil war."
Another official said the assassination attempt was a message to top PA leaders that they too would be targeted.
Abu Rajab was seriously wounded when a bomb went off in an elevator inside the headquarters of the General Intelligence Service in Gaza City. His bodyguard, Ala Abu Hasira, 40, was killed, and 10 others were wounded, including a secretary and a number of senior officers.
Several journalists who rushed to the scene were beaten by members of Abu Rajab's force.
Fatah legislator and former PA information minister Nabil Shaath, in Sharm e-Sheikh to attend the the Economic World Forum, told The Jerusalem Post the attack was an attempt to push Palestinians into a civil war.
"Some people want us to accuse Hamas," he said. "They want to push us into a civil war with Hamas. I don't know if Hamas did it, but if someone from Hamas did it they should be put on trial."
Dialogue is key to resolving the Fatah-Hamas conflict, Shaath said. "We're willing to negotiate with the Israelis, so we might as well negotiate with Hamas."
He blamed his own party for losing the January election. "Because of Fatah's stupidity, Hamas got only 41 percent of the vote but it gave them 56% of the seats," he said. "We recognize this and that is why Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] asked Hamas to form a government."
The attempt on the life of Abu Rajab, a senior member of the Fatah movement, was the second in two years. In August 2004, he was seriously wounded when unidentified gunmen ambushed his convoy near Gaza City.
Last week, Abu Rajab headed a PA security delegation that traveled to Amman to discuss charges by the Jordanian government that Hamas had smuggled weapons into the kingdom and was planning to launch terrorist attacks there.
Following the visit, Abbas announced that, unlike Hamas, he believed the Jordanian allegations.
Abu Rajab was first taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where doctors requested that he be transferred to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv due to the severity of his wounds.
Abbas, who was also attending the Economic World Forum, described the blast as "a very unfortunate and annoying incident, which poses a serious threat to the PA." He made the statement as he emerged from a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. Abbas said he had ordered an investigation into the explosion.
He told a media conference that Palestinians would begin a "major national dialogue in the next few days to see what we can do with the crisis at home."
Abbas said that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails from all factions are involved in the process. He expressed hope that it would help end the clashes between Hamas and Fatah.
The Hamas-controlled PA government, which denied any connection to the assassination attempt, also expressed deep regret and called for a commission of inquiry.
Abu Rajab's deputy, Tawfik Tirawi, said "mercenaries" had infiltrated the PA security forces and were planning to kill top Fatah leaders, including Abbas. "We are all being threatened," he said. "We're concerned about the safety of the president and all the leaders and senior officials because of the anarchy and lawlessness."
Although he did not mention Hamas by name, Tirawi said the assassination attempt was linked to "incitement and irresponsible statements" made in mosques over the past few weeks.
Tirawi strongly dismissed claims by Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal to the effect that the explosion may have occurred when Abu Rajab's bodyguard accidentally dropped a hand grenade.
"This is a foolish and irresponsible statement," he said. "He should have refrained from issuing such statements as long as the circumstances were unclear."
Tirawi said the explosion came from a home-made bomb that had been planted beneath the private elevator of Abu Rajab.
Abu Rajab was one of several Fatah leaders whose names appeared in a leaflet issued by al-Qaida in the Gaza Strip recently. The leaflet, signed by supporters of Jordanian-born arch-terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, threatened to "slaughter" Fatah leaders "like sheep" and accused them of conspiring with Israel and the US to topple the Hamas government.
Fatah leaders were quick to blame Hamas for the assassination attempt. Former PA supply minister Abu Ali Shaheen said Hamas's new security force, which started operating in the Gaza Strip last week, was responsible. "This black militia did it," he said. "Hamas and its Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the militia, are responsible for the latest deterioration and anarchy."
Some 400 Fatah supporters, including several gunmen, demonstrated in downtown Ramallah to protest the assassination attempt. They marched toward the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council, chanting slogans against Hamas and calling for the prevention of civil war.
Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip issued a warning calling on Hamas to dismantle its new security force. Abu Jihad, a spokesman for one of Fatah's armed groups, said his men would deploy on the streets if Hamas did not withdraw its force within three days. "The Hamas militia endangers of the lives of the Palestinians," he said. "This is an illegal force that is intimidating and terrorizing the people."
Abu Jihad said Fatah had also established a security force, consisting of 2,000 gunmen. "Our men don't wear masks," he said. "Soon we will have about 10,000 members in our force."
However PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh vowed during Friday prayers not to disband the security force and said he was prepared to increase its size. Haniyeh also condemned the confiscation of â‚¬639,000 in cash from a Hamas official at the Rafah border crossing.
PA security officers at the terminal on the Gaza-Egypt order seized the money from Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent Hamas spokesman, upon his return from a tour of Arab countries. Abu Zuhri said the money was donated by Arab and Islamic organizations and individuals and was supposed to go to the families of prisoners held in Israeli jails.
PA security officials accused Abu Zuhri of trying to smuggle the money into the Gaza Strip. At first Abu Zuhri refused to leave the border crossing without the money, but he later left, saying he had been promised that the donations would be transferred to the Finance Ministry.