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(photo credit: AP [file])
Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, one of the prominent leaders of Hamas in the West Bank, was lightly wounded on Sunday when a Palestinian Authority security officer opened fire at him in Nablus.
Hamas strongly condemned the attack as a failed assassination attempt, while the PA said that it was an "isolated" incident and that the assailant had been arrested.
The attack took place only a day after the PA accused Hamas militiamen in the Gaza Strip of shooting three Fatah members in the legs.
The shooter was identified as Nu'man Amer, an officer with the PA's much-feared Preventative Security Service.
Bitawi, who represents Hamas's Change and Reform List in the Palestinian Legislative Council, was hit in the legs by shrapnel, eyewitnesses said. He was taken to Rafidyah Hospital, where doctors said he had been lightly wounded.
Bitawi said the attack occurred as he and his son, Nasr, walked out of the Anbiya Mosque in the eastern sector of the city.
"The man who shot me cursed me and Allah before opening fire from his pistol," he said in a phone interview from his hospital bed.
"When my son asked him why he was shouting and cursing, the man, who is known as a security officer working for the Palestinian Authority, started cursing him too."
According to Bitawi, 65, the assailant also threatened to shoot him if he ever saw him in the same area again.
"Then my son told him, 'Why don't you go ahead and shoot?,'" he recalled. "His response was to draw his pistol and open fire toward my legs."
Bitawi added that this was the second time in less than a year that he had been targeted by PA security personnel. In the previous incident, he said, PA policemen fired about 15 bullets at him and other worshipers in the same mosque.
No one was hurt in that attack. Bitawi said that he filed a complaint with the PA back then, but no one was punished.
"This is the security anarchy in the West Bank," he said. "What are [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas's security forces doing? They are responsible for the chaos."
Hamas spokesmen said the attack was a "dangerous development" that would have a negative impact on efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah rift.
Hamas also pledged to retaliate against those responsible, but did not say what kind of action it was contemplating.
"This is a very dangerous incident that would have grave repercussions on the dialogue [between Hamas and Fatah]," said Hamas legislator Fathi Hammad. "We are planning a series of protests because Sheikh Bitawi is also the chairman of the Palestinian Religious Scholars Council."
Another Hamas legislator, Mushir al-Masri, held Abbas personally responsible for the "assassination attempt." He said that Abbas's security forces have been "running wild" in the West Bank, torching the offices of Hamas legislators, beating them and arresting them for no reason.
Col. Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces in the West Bank, said the attack was "personally motivated" and had no political background.
He said that the assailant acted "on his own" and not on behalf of the security force where he serves. He said the officer would be formally charged with assault.
The spokesman claimed that, contrary to Bitawi's claim, the officer opened fire into the air and not toward his legs.