Hamas: PM ‘targeted’ at border

The shoot-out occurred as the Mr Haniya’s convoy crossed into the Gaza Strip from Egypt late on Thursday after waiting for hours at a border checkpoint that Israel had closed.

It was not clear who opened fire first, but there were reports that Hamas gunmen had earlier stormed the border crossing in response to its closure.

One of Mr Haniya’s bodyguards was killed and five people were wounded including his son, who serves as the prime minister’s political advisor, a government source said.

“We know who opened fire,” Mr Haniya told journalists after arriving safely home in Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the shots were “a planned attempt by Force 17 (the presidential guard) to assassinate brother Ismail Haniya.”

“We want (President) Mahmoud Abbas to order that those responsible be found,” he added.

Border crossing stormed

The closure of the Rafah crossing earlier sparked the storming of the border terminal by dozens of Hamas gunmen, which caused panic among travellers and sent European Union observers running from the building.

At least 13 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire after the militants went on a rampage inside the terminal building, smashing windows and furniture and firing into the air and at the building itself.

Israel had wanted to prevent Mr Haniya entering Gaza with “tens of millions of dollars” he was carrying after his fund-raising trip because, according to an
Israeli source, it believed the money would be used to finance terrorism.

But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who deplored the deadly violence, said Mr Haniya had deposited the money at an Egyptian bank.

“The money he was carrying is not across the border, it is now in a bank in
Egypt,” Mr Solana told journalists in Brussels.

An Egyptian security source in Gaza said earlier that Israel and Cairo had reached a compromise under which Mr Haniya would be allowed to pass, but that the US$35 million he was reported to be carrying would be deposited into an Egyptian bank to be transferred later to a Palestinian Authority account.

Mr Haniya had cut short his first foreign trip to deal with rising internecine tensions in Gaza ahead of a speech by President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday on resolving months of political deadlock and crisis.

Gaza has been gripped by rising friction between supporters of the ruling Islamists of Hamas and Mr Abbas’s Fatah party after a series of killings and threats of retaliation over the past several days.

But when Mr Haniya’s convoy reached Rafah — Gaza’s only border crossing that bypasses Israel — the Jewish state closed the terminal.

“Defence Minister Amir Peretz ordered the closing of the Rafah crossing in order to prevent tens of millions of dollars from entering Gaza together with Haniya,” an Israeli security source said on condition of anonymity.

During his tour, Mr Haniya secured promises from Iran to provide US$250 million of aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian government and from Qatar to pay the salaries of health and education ministry staff. Sudan also pledged US$10 million in emergency aid.

In his Saturday speech, Mr Abbas is expected to lay out his plans for resolving a months-long standoff with Hamas.

Mr Abbas aides say the president is likely to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections, following the collapse of talks with Hamas over forming a unity government.

Hamas, which took power after a sweeping election win over Fatah in January, has warned that such a move would amount to a coup. The current
Palestinian parliament is due to remain in place until 2010.

The moderate Palestinian president and the ruling Islamists have tried for months to form a coalition, but their talks collapsed over Hamas’s refusal to bend to Western conditions and disagreement over key ministerial posts.

The European Union and the United States, which consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, froze direct aid to the Palestinian government after the Islamists formed a cabinet in March, demanding that they renounce violence and recognise Israel and past peace deals.

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