PA security chief almost assassinated

Officials discover a 70-kg. roadside bomb planted near Abu Shbak's home.

rashid abu shbak 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press [file])
rashid abu shbak 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Palestinian officials on Sunday foiled an apparent assassination attempt against a top security chief loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, discovering a large roadside bomb planted shortly before the commander's motorcade was scheduled to pass through the area. The discovery of the 70-kilogram device was likely to further inflame tensions between Abbas and the rival Hamas-led government. On Saturday, Abbas' intelligence chief in Gaza was seriously wounded in an explosion. Rashid Abu Shbak, a senior commander in Gaza, was the target of Sunday's attack, security officials said. The explosives were found shortly before Abu Shbak's motorcade left from his house in an exclusive neighborhood. The road is checked each morning before he heads to work. Officials said the bomb was removed, and an investigation was underway. Abu Shbak is at the center of a power struggle that has escalated since Hamas defeated Abbas' Fatah movement in legislative elections early this year. Abbas, a political moderate, was elected in separate presidential elections last year and wields significant authority, including formal control over some of the security forces. The dispute has focused in large part on control of the security forces. In April, Abbas angered Hamas by placing Abu Shbak in charge of three security agencies that report to the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry. Hamas responded by announcing formation of its own security force. The 3,000-member Hamas militia was deployed for the first time last week, despite orders from Abbas not to form the unit. In response, forces loyal to Abbas came out in large numbers, raising tensions. Fatah officials have hinted that they believe Hamas was behind Saturday's attack and Sunday's attempted bombing, but have not openly accused Hamas of involvement. "There is a clear conspiracy aimed to target Fatah leaders and the security chief in the Gaza Strip with suspicious objects. What happened today near Abu Shbak's house and yesterday with the intelligence services is proof of this," said Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa. On Saturday, Palestinian Authority officials 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.