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Outgoing Palestinian Authority minister Mohamed Dahlan has angrily denied involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
But news of the alleged plot, reported in an Egyptian magazine, is exacerbating tensions between Hamas and Dahlan's Fatah party.
According to the report, in the Egyptian magazine al-Iz'ahwa al-Telfisyon (Radio and Television), Dahlan met with CIA and Israeli security officials in an Arab capital just before last month's Palestinian parliamentary election. The three-day meeting, the report said, was also attended by security officials from the host country.
The participants agreed on the need to assassinate Mashaal so as to weaken Hamas on the eve of the election, the magazine said. It added that Dahlan and all those who participated in the meeting pointed out that Mashaal had become a central figure in Hamas because he enjoyed the support of both the local and outside leadership of the movement.
The report claimed that the participants also agreed to step up pressure on Iran and Syria to cut off their relations with Hamas and to stop providing the movement with money.
The magazine said its source was one of the Palestinian security officers who participated in the alleged meeting. The officer, whose identity was not revealed, informed the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip of the secret meeting shortly after he returned home.
The magazine said that Hamas decided to beef up security arrangements around its leaders after learning from the officer about the alleged plot to assassinate Mashaal.
Although the magazine did not mention the venue of the alleged meeting, sources close to Hamas named Jordan as the host.
The report in the Egyptian magazine, which is normally described as reliable, has increased tensions between Hamas and Dahlan's Fatah party.
Copies of the report were distributed on Monday in some parts of the Gaza Strip by Hamas members in an attempt to discredit Dahlan.
The latest allegation may disrupt Hamas's efforts to persuade Fatah to join a new Hamas-led cabinet. Dahlan and many Fatah leaders are strongly opposed to joining a Hamas-led cabinet. Former PA security commander Jibril Rajoub said on Monday that contrary to reports in the Arab media, Fatah had no plans to join a Hamas cabinet.
In response to the allegation that he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Mashaal, Dahlan said he would raise the issue with top government officials in Cairo. He also said that he was planning to file a libel suit against the magazine and its editor.
"It's nonsense," Dahlan said. "It's all fabricated by the man who wrote it. Those behind these lies are trying to drive a wedge between the Palestinians at a time when our people are facing huge challenges."
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman, said his movement ruled out the possibility that a Palestinian would be involved in such a conspiracy. "We don't have specific information about this subject, but any assassination of a Hamas leader will have serious repercussions for the entire region," he said. "We believe that Israel is involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Hamas leaders."