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Attempt to assassinate top commander loyal to Abbas

Security personnel find bomb along security chief's motorcade

GAZA CITY: Palestinian security on Sunday foiled an attempt to kill a top commander loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas with a roadside bomb, officials said, further raising tensions between Abbas' Fatah movement and the Hamas-led Government. The discovery of the 70-kg bomb came a day after Mr. Abbas' intelligence chief was seriously wounded in an explosion. Fatah officials said on Sunday there is a ``clear conspiracy'' against their leaders, though they stopped short of openly accusing Hamas of involvement.

Tensions have been rising since Hamas defeated the long-ruling Fatah in legislative elections early this year. The sides have been locked in a power struggle focused in large part on control of security forces.

Gaza security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, a central figure in the power struggle, was the target of Sunday's attempted bombing, security officials said.

Security personnel found the explosives along a route used by Mr. Shbak's motorcade. The road is inspected each morning before Mr. Shbak heads to work. The explosives were removed and destroyed in a controlled explosion.

After the bomb was discovered, hundreds of Fatah activists took to the streets, expressing support for the movement's security forces and volunteering their services. Later in the day, the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security agency stepped up patrols in the streets of Gaza and restricted access to their headquarters.

Mr. Abbas tried to calm the tensions on Sunday, saying the sides could not allow the situation to deteriorate into a full-fledged civil war.

``Civil war is the red line that nobody dares cross, no matter which side they are on ... Civil war is forbidden,'' Mr. Abbas said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Egyptian Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheik, where he met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Mr. 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. In April, Mr. 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 Mr. Abbas not to form the unit. In response, forces loyal to Mr. 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 stopped short of openly accusing Hamas of involvement. — AP

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