Was there an assassination attempt on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas?

By November 16, 2023 International Politics

We came across the following post on a Telegram channel with over 49,000 subscribers:

The post includes a video 20 seconds long that shows a group of armed men near some vehicles taking fire from unidentified forces off screen. One of the men appears to have been shot and falls to the ground. The other men take cover and some return fire.

In the accompanying text, the post claims that the video shows the convoy of the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas taking fire in an assassination attempt.

When we looked up the official Facebook page of President Abbas, we found no indication that the event had transpired.

A web search revealed that the news had been reported across a number of websites, including India’s Firstpost and Oneindia, and the Daily Express US, the US version of the UK newspaper of the same name. It was also reported in Hurriyet along with other Turkish newspapers, Russian state news service TASS, and Belarussian outlet Nexta.

According to the media credibility resource Media Bias/Fact Check, despite many of these newspapers having high readership figures, they all have an inconsistent record of factual reporting.

The article was also published on the site GlobalResearch.ca by the same author as the Express. GlobalResearch has been found to routinely publish false information and promote conspiracy theories.

Mysterious Assailants with Links to Hamas?

According to the news articles, Abbas’ convoy came under attack by an organisation called the ‘Sons of Abu Jandal’. Several of the articles claimed that the Sons of Abu Jandal claimed responsibility for the attack. However, we were unable to verify this claim as we found no evidence that any group claimed responsibility for the attack, and the various media sources failed to provide a source for their claims.

The news was also reported widely by users on X, formerly Twitter. Several of these users also claimed that the group carrying out the attack were affiliated to, or members of Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and perpetrated the 7 October massacre in Israel.

We looked into the group that had been attributed with the attack – the Sons of Abu Jandal – and found that the group had only recently appeared. On 5 November, a statement was released by the Sons and reported on by several media organisations reporting on the Palestinian territories.

In the statement, the Sons issued a ’24-hour ultimatum’ to Abbas to declare ‘full confrontation’ with Israel in response to the death of Palestinian civilians in Gaza as a result of Israel’s ongoing military campaign there. The Sons claimed to be dissenting members of the Palestinian security services. There is no evidence that the terms of the ultimatum to Abbas were met. News reports of the attack on the convoy emerged two days later, on 7 November.

A Deadly Drug Raid

Further searches about the origin of the video led us to conflicting reports about the nature of the gunfight that had been captured. Some local news organisations reported that the attack was the result of Palestinian security services attempting to arrest a drug dealer in the Jalazone refugee camp, during which the security services came under fire from the criminal gang.

Shayan Sardarizadeh, a journalist at BBC Verify, noted that local reports confirmed it was a police operation against a criminal gang. We also found a statement on Facebook from Talal Dweikat, a spokesperson for the Palestinian security services, who stated that the security services had been in a firefight near Jalazone, with several sustaining injuries, while pursuing a wanted person in relation to drug trafficking.

The factcheck service of France 24, a French state-owned media network, was able to geolocate the location of the firefight on Google Maps and confirm that it took place in Jalazone.

The ‘assassination attempt’ of Abbas represents a rare occasion where several news outlets report contradicting accounts of the same event. Ultimately, the truth of the incident can be determined by scrutinising a few factors: credibility of the source, corroboration from authoritative sources, and independent verification.

The allegations of the assassination attempt were widespread, but there were no sources proving that the Sons of Abu Jandal or Hamas had undertaken such an action or that Abbas was present at the scene. The media sources reporting the incident also have mixed records of factual reporting.

These reports appear to have drawn a spurious link between the events in the video and the statement released by the Sons two days prior in the wider backdrop of Abbas and the PA facing increasing criticism from Palestinians for corruption and for coordinating with Israel on security matters.

On the other hand, the reports of the firefight during the gun raid were corroborated by a Palestinian official and independently verified with geolocation. As such, we determine the reports that there was an assassination attempt on Mahmoud Abbas to be false.

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