Mystery shrouds Palestinian ambassador's death in Prague

Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic Jamal al-Jamal sitting at a desk in an undisclosed location. Czech and Palestinian investigators were probing on Thursday, Jan 2, 2014, the mysterious death of the Palestinian envoy to Prague, who was
Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic Jamal al-Jamal sitting at a desk in an undisclosed location. Czech and Palestinian investigators were probing on Thursday, Jan 2, 2014, the mysterious death of the Palestinian envoy to Prague, who was killed by an exploding safe. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP/FAMILY HANDOUT

PRAGUE (AFP) - Czech and Palestinian investigators were probing the mysterious death of the Palestinian envoy to Prague, who was killed by an exploding safe on Thursday.

Czech police have said they believe the blast was caused by the accidental detonation of an anti-theft device on the safe at the envoy's residence rather than an attack.

"A Mystery," read the front-page headline of MF DNES, the top-selling Czech broadsheet daily.

Mr Jamal al-Jamal, 56, who had been in the post of ambassador only since October, suffered fatal injuries to his head, chest and stomach in the explosion.

His 52-year-old wife was treated for smoke inhalation in hospital but discharged on Wednesday.

"The safe that exploded was in almost everyday use," said Palestinian embassy spokesman Nabil al-Fahel.

"The safe was pretty old, it was purchased in mid-1980s and according to our information there was no built-in anti-theft system," he said, adding that the embassy was in the process of moving to new premises.

Asked what he thought had caused the blast, Mr Fahel said: "We don't know exactly, we're waiting for the outcome of the investigation."

A special Palestinian team is in Prague to help investigate the death of Mr Jamal, a member of the ruling Palestinian Fatah party who served as a diplomat in Bulgaria and Egypt as well as the Czech Republic.

"The evidence the police have doesn't suggest anything like a terror attack or that a specific person would set up a system with the intention to hurt or kill anyone," Czech police spokesman Andrea Zoulova told AFP.

The Czech Republic is a staunch ally of Israel but Prague has hosted a diplomatic mission from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) since 1981, when it was the capital of Czechoslovakia.

The mission became an embassy in 1988, but in November 2012 the Czech Republic was one of nine countries which voted against the UN General Assembly move to upgrade the Palestinians' status to non-member observer state.

When Mr Jamal began his mission, he had asked President Milos Zeman to rescind his call for the Czech embassy in Israel to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said the blast occurred on Wednesday as Mr Jamal was opening the safe. He was taken to hospital with serious injuries and was operated on but later died.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki hailed him as "an exemplary diplomat who served his country and cause well".

The blast occurred on the eve of a new visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by US Secretary of State John Kerry to push faltering Middle East peace talks.