A HAMAS plot to assassinate Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has been thwarted after he was tipped off by Israeli intelligence.
Hamas's military wing, the Izza Din Al-Qassem, had planned to kill Abbas at his office in Gaza, intelligence sources said.
Abbas, who became president of the Palestinian Authority last year after the death of Yasser Arafat, was formally warned of the danger by the Israelis and cancelled a planned visit to the territory.
The murder plan is the clearest sign yet of the tensions inside the Palestinian Authority between Hamas, which swept to power after elections in January, and Abbas's Fatah movement.
Hamas leaders, who refuse to recognise the state of Israel, suspect Abbas of obstructing their attempts to govern, which have been hampered by a financial boycott from donor nations. "Hamas considers Abbas to be a barrier to its complete control over Palestine and decided to kill him," said a Palestinian source who was an adviser to Arafat and is a close acquaintance of Abbas.
It is understood that the attack would also have targeted Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas's strongman in Gaza.
The sources were unable to say who in Hamas's secretive leadership had given the order to kill Abbas. But an indication of its hostility towards Abbas came last week.
In a statement to Al-Jazeera, the Arab television news network, Mohammed Nazzal, one of its leaders, accused the president of being party to "besieging and isolating the Hamas-led government".
Abbas, who is guarded by his own security men, divides his time between his Gaza and Ramallah offices. While in the West Bank he is relatively safe, but Gaza - stronghold of Hamas and numerous rogue terrorist organisations - is a dangerous place. Shortly after his election to the presidency Abbas narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the Gaza Strip.
A recent request to the Israeli government to let him bring in new weapons for his presidential guard was rejected by Shaul Mofaz, the outgoing Israeli defence minister.
However, the Israelis could not ignore intelligence information regarding the imminent threat to Abbas's life. "We monitor every movement of Hamas in Gaza," said an Israeli intelligence source. "So when we learnt that Abbas's life was in danger, we made sure to inform him without delay."
Matti Steinberg, a former adviser to the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, said he would be surprised if any decision to kill Abbas had been taken by Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, or Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader. "However, such an action by the military wing of Hamas is very plausible," he added.
While Hamas is struggling to maintain power, and Abbas to remain relevant, economic chaos is spreading in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. For the second month in a row 160,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority have not received their salaries.
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