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Palestinian ambassador killed in blast

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

PRAGUE — The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic died on Wednesday in an explosion that occurred when he opened an old safe that had been left untouched for more than 20 years, officials said.

Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, 56, was at home with his family at the time of the explosion, according to Palestinian embassy spokesman Nabil El-Fahel. Al-Jamal was seriously injured and rushed to a hospital, where he died, police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said no foul play was suspected, noting that the safe had been left untouched for more than 20 years.

It appeared that the door of the safe had been booby-trapped, according to Zoulova. It was unclear how al-Jamal tried to open it or what type of safe it was.

The safe was recently moved from the old embassy building, but it had come from a building that used to house the Palestinian Liberation Organization's offices in the 1980s, Malki said.

“The ambassador decided to open it. After he opened it, apparently something happened inside (the safe) and went off,” Malki said.

It was not clear how Malki knew the safe had been untouched for more than 20 years or why and when the safe would have been booby-trapped.

During the 1980s — before the fall of the Soviet Union — the PLO had close ties with the Eastern bloc. In recent years, relations have been tense, and the Czech government was viewed as largely taking Israel's side in the Mideast conflict, said Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs veteran and leading official in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

“The safe was sitting neglected in one of the areas of the old embassy. It was in one of the corners. No one had touched it for 20 to 25 years,” Malki said.

The embassy recently moved to a new complex.

“The ambassador wanted to know what is in the safe,” Malki said. “He opened it and asked his wife to bring a paper and a pen to write down the contents of the safe. She left him to bring (the) pen and paper. During that time, she heard the sound of an explosion.”

He said the ambassador had taken some of the contents out of the safe, but it wasn't immediately clear what was inside.

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