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Gaza blast: Explosion strikes Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah's convoy

by The Associated Press /

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JABALIYA, Gaza Strip — An explosion struck the convoy of the Palestinian prime minister Tuesday as he was making a rare visit to Gaza, in what his Fatah party called an assassination attempt it blamed on Gaza militants.

The explosion went off shortly after the convoy entered Gaza through the Erez crossing with Israel. The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was unharmed and went on to inaugurate a long-awaited sewage plant project in the northern part of the strip.

 Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is greeted by police forces of the Islamist Hamas movement upon his arrival in Gaza City. Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images

But Fatah quickly held Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers responsible for the "cowardly attack" on the convoy, further escalating tensions between the bitter rival factions.

Three of the vehicles in Hamdallah's convoy were damaged, their windows blown out. One had signs of blood on the door.

Hamas confirmed an explosion struck the convoy but said no injuries were reported. It condemned the Gaza explosion, calling it a crime and an attempt to "hurt efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation." It promised an "urgent" investigation.

While President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas for the blast, his security chief Majed Farraj, who was in the convoy, said it was "too early" to say who was responsible.

Hamdallah, who is based in the West Bank, arrived in Hamas-run Gaza to inaugurate the sewage plant and said there that the attack will "not deter from seeking to end the bitter split. We will still come to Gaza."

The rival factions have been trying to reconcile since 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces and have suffered several setbacks in their efforts since. The takeover left the Palestinians with two rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

 A damaged vehicle belonging to Rami Hamdallah's convoy after it was hit in a blast in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Mohammed Salem / Reuters

In November, Hamas handed over control of Gaza's border crossings to the Palestinian Authority. It was the first tangible concession in years of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks. But negotiations have bogged down since then.

Hamdallah's visit comes amid a time of crisis in Gaza, where the economy is devastated. The White House is hosting a gathering of international representatives Tuesday to discuss economic development and the dire humanitarian situation, which White House envoy Jason Greenblatt has blamed on Hamas' control.

"The challenge will be determining which ideas can be realistically implemented in light of the fact that the Palestinians of Gaza continue to suffer under the authoritarian rule of Hamas," he said in a statement.

The plant in question was envisioned in 2007 after overburdened sewage reservoirs collapsed, killing five villagers.

The World Bank, European Union and other European governments have paid nearly $75 million in funding. Hamas' takeover of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and the ensuing Israeli-Egyptian blockade, power shortages and conflicts delayed the opening of the project for four years.

Besides the old reservoirs, the plant will receive wastewater from four towns and villages. After treatment, the water will be transferred for irrigation and the remainder will be safely dumped to the sea.

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