Palestinian envoy dies after 'accidental' Prague blast

PRAGUE (AFP) - The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic died on Wednesday after a blast at his Prague residence that police said was an accident.

The blast was likely caused by an anti-theft system on the door of a safe that Mr Jamal al-Jamal was opening at the time, Prague police said.

The 56-year-old suffered "very serious injuries" in the blast and was taken to Prague's military hospital in an artificial coma, said Ms Jirina Ernestova, spokesman for the emergency services.

Police later confirmed that he had died.

"The evidence the police has 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," police spokesman Andrea Zoulova told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mr Daniel Langer, surgeon at the Prague military hospital to which Mr Jamal was taken, told Czech television the ambassador had suffered devastating "head, belly and chest injuries following an explosion."

Mr Jamal, who took office in October, had only recently moved to the new residence on the northern outskirts of Prague.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki hailed him as "an exemplary diplomat, who served his country and cause well". The Palestinian foreign ministry said the blast occurred on Wednesday morning as Mr Jamal "was opening an old safe which had been brought from the previous embassy (building) to the new one".

"Minutes after opening the safe the explosion took place, causing serious injury to Jamal who was taken to hospital and operated on," the ministry said in a statement.

Ms Zoulova said police were not ruling out the possibility the safe was "mishandled", adding "the victim has died so it will be harder to prove the cause". Police searched a building next door which also belongs to the Palestinian embassy, but said they had not found any other explosives in the area.

"Still, this (explosives) is a thing you shouldn't find at any embassy and we will continue a probe into this within the investigation," Czech police chief Martin Cervicek told the private Nova television station.

Embassy spokesman Nabil al-Fahel told Czech radio that the ambassador's entire family had been in the residence when the blast occurred.

Mr Jamal's 52-year-old wife "was taken to another hospital because of smoke inhalation and a stress reaction," Ms Ernestova told AFP. The wife was released from hospital later on Wednesday.

Mr Fahel said a special Palestinian team had arrived in Prague and got the greenlight from the Czech foreign ministry "to take part in the investigation of today's incident".

Mr Jamal was born in Beirut in 1957 to a Palestinian family that had fled Jaffa - near modern-day Tel Aviv - after the state of Israel was created in 1948, and moved to Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.

Mr Jamal joined the Fatah party in 1975 and became an aide to the ambassador in Bulgaria four years later. He moved to Prague as a diplomat in 1984.

After working as Palestinian consul to the Egyptian port city of Alexandria from 2005, he was appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic in October 2013.

The Czech Republic is a staunch ally of Israel, and when Mr Jamal arrived in Prague he had to ask the outspoken Czech President Milos Zeman to correct his suggestion that the Czech embassy in Israel should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The suggestion that Jerusalem is the true capital of Israel is unthinkable for most Palestinians, who claim rights to the eastern part of the city.