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(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority security forces have foiled an attempt by Hamas to assassinate senior PA leaders in the Gaza Strip, including PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan, Palestinian security sources said Monday.
The sources said that over the past few days the security forces discovered a number of underground tunnels in the northern Gaza Strip that were dug along major roads used by PA and Fatah leaders. Some of the tunnels were also discovered beneath the homes of top Fatah officials in the same area, the sources said.
Abdel Hakim Awad, a senior Fatah official in the Gaza Strip, said tons of explosives were discovered in the tunnels, some of which were traced back to the interior of Hamas-controlled mosques.
"There are plans to assassinate senior Fatah leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan," he said. "Otherwise, how can anyone explain the network of booby-trapped underground tunnels in the northern Gaza Strip, particularly the main Salah a-Din Street?"
The convoys of both Abbas and Dahlan often pass through Salah a-Din Street on their way to Israel and the West Bank.
Hamas leaders have accused Dahlan of being behind an assassination attempt on the life of PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh several weeks ago. Last week, thousands of Hamas supporters staged demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, where they condemned Dahlan as a collaborator with Israel and the US.
Awad also revealed that one of the tunnels was supposed to provide access to the headquarters of the PA National Security Force near the Jabalya refugee camp.
He expressed astonishment at the fact that Hamas was plotting to assassinate Fatah leaders despite reports that the two parties were close to reaching a deal on the formation of a unity government.
"This proves that Hamas is using double-talk," he charged. "On the one hand, their leaders are talking about the resumption of the unity government talks, while on the other hand the movement's actions on the ground suggest that they are headed toward escalation."
Warning against the grave consequences of such assassinations, the Fatah official said his party has briefed all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, on the discovery of the underground tunnels.
"Any attack on our leaders will draw a scorched earth response from Fatah," he said. Awad also accused Hamas members of kidnapping four Fatah activists and shooting a fifth in separate attacks in the Gaza Strip on Sunday night.
PA officials said talks over the formation of a unity government may resume in the coming days. They added that Abbas was planning to appoint Dahlan as head of the PA's National Security Council.
According to the officials, former finance minister Salam Fayyad may return to his job in a new unity government, while the Foreign Ministry would be handed over to independent legislator Ziad Abu Amr.
A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip denied the charges that his movement was planning to assassinate Abbas and Dahlan, explaining that the tunnels were supposed to be used to repel a possible attack by the IDF.
"The latest allegations are part of a campaign of incitement waged by Fatah against Hamas," the official told The Jerusalem Post.
In another development, a Hamas leader said Monday that his movement could liberate most of the land of Palestine and establish a Palestinian state within 10 years provided that the Palestinians united and formed a strong army.
This is the first time that a Hamas official spoke about plans to establish a Palestinian army.
Some PA officials have in the past accused Hamas of trying to establish its own army in the Gaza Strip, noting that the movement's paramilitary "Executive Force" was already acting as if its members were soldiers.
"Hamas could achieve a fateful victory [over Israel] if the internal fighting stops and once the Palestinians develop their military capabilities," said Hamad al-Rakab, a top Hamas official in the Khan Yunis district in the southern Gaza Strip.
He admitted, however, that the idea of a Palestinian army remains a "remote dream" at this stage.
According to Rakab, Hamas's goal could be achieved if the Palestinians met two conditions - ending internal strife and establishing a Palestinian army consisting of all the armed groups.
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