Suspect in Palestinian assassination attempt among four dead in Gaza shootout: Hamas

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas said its security forces in Gaza shot dead on Thursday the main suspect behind an attempt to assassinate the Palestinian prime minister, a bombing that threatens to unravel its reconciliation agreement with the West Bank-based government.

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Two members of the Hamas security forces and one accomplice of the suspect also died in the shootout, the Hamas-led Gaza interior ministry said.

The bombing of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy in Gaza last week dealt another blow to efforts to implement a unity deal between the two main Palestinian factions - Islamist Hamas, which dominates Gaza, and Fatah, the main party in the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The motorcade Hamdallah and Palestinian security chief Majid Faraj was attacked on March 13 shortly after it entered Gaza from neighboring Israel. They were uninjured.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had blamed Hamas for the explosion.

After Thursday’s raid, a spokesman for Hamdallah’s government questioned Hamas’s version of events and again accused the group of bearing “full criminal responsibility” for the assassination attempt.

“Once more, Hamas is going along the same path of ... fabricating weak stories that make no sense,” the spokesman, Youssef Al-Mahmoud, said.

More than a decade after Hamas fighters drove the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza, Egypt has been brokering a reconciliation deal under which the PA would again assume administrative and security control in the territory of two million people.

Hamdallah has been spearheading those efforts on behalf of the PA, with both sides still divided over how to share power in Gaza, where Hamas is still the strongest armed force.

Abbas has argued that the assassination attempt proved that the agreement was failing and that Hamas could not be trusted.

In a statement, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza said its security forces investigating the assassination attempt had surrounded a hideout in the central region of the enclave and came under fire after demanding the suspects surrender.

It said a man named Anas Abu Khoussa, whom it identified as the prime suspect in the bombing, was killed in the ensuing shootout, along with an accomplice and two Hamas security men.

The ministry did not say whether Abu Khoussa was affiliated with any militant group.

Abbas has offered no evidence of the involvement of Hamas in the attempt against Hamdallah’s life. But he said he did not trust Hamas to investigate the incident honestly and that there had been “zero” progress in the reconciliation.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Fatah in 2007.

The Palestinian reconciliation effort is opposed by Israel, which considers Hamas, a group dedicated to its destruction, an implacable foe. U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014, in part over a unity deal that year between the PA and Hamas, as well as other issues.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ori Lewis and Peter Graff