GAZA CITY -- A Gaza security chief loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was killed yesterday when his car blew up, the second attack on a top commander in less than a week.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the explosion came at a time of an increasingly bloody power struggle between Abbas's forces and those of the Hamas-led government. A Hamas militant in the Gaza Strip was fatally wounded earlier in the day.
In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers waged a fierce battle with Palestinians during a raid to arrest a top militant, killing four people and wounding more than 30.
Nabil Hodhod, central Gaza commander of the powerful, Fatah-linked Preventive Security force, was killed when a blast ripped through his car in downtown Gaza City, not far from Shifa Hospital. His deputy was wounded.
Hodhod was the highest-ranking official to be killed in a week of violence, sparked by Hamas's fielding of its own militia in defiance of a ban by Abbas. Two other senior security officers have been targeted.
On Saturday, intelligence chief Tareq Abu Rajab was seriously wounded in an explosion in his Gaza office, and on Sunday, Palestinian security found a huge bomb on the road used by security commander Rashid Abu Shbak to drive to his office, an apparent assassination attempt.
Abu Shbak, a Fatah stalwart, has become a symbol of the conflict. Abbas appointed him to command three security forces nominally under the authority of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry. Hamas responded by deploying its own 3,000-strong militia made up of militants.
In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank, the second Israeli arrest raid in as many days turned violent from the outset.
Palestinians spotted undercover Israeli forces in a Ford sedan near Manara Square in the center of the city, opened fire, and threw rocks at the soldiers, Palestinian officials and the Israeli military said. The Israelis in the car and reinforcements brought in for the raid returned fire, killing four Palestinians and wounding more than 30. Ambulances darted in and out of the melee, taking casualties to the hospital.
One of the dead was a police officer and the others were civilians, Palestinians said. The Israeli military said a soldier was slightly wounded in the clash.
Television footage showed the streets of central Ramallah deserted except for a few jeeps, as smoke rose from nearby buildings. Rocks littered the streets after the Israelis withdrew.
The Israelis succeeded in capturing the militant they wanted, Mohammed Shubaki of Islamic Jihad.
Israel Army Radio said he was a leader of the northern West Bank cell of Islamic Jihad responsible for all the suicide bombings in Israel over the past year.
On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers surrounded a house in Ramallah and arrested Ibrahim Hamed, the top Hamas commander in the West Bank, said by Israel to be responsible for suicide bomb attacks that killed 78 people, including five Americans, over the past five years.
Even before the Preventive Security chief was killed late yesterday afternoon, tensions were running high in Gaza.
Masked gunmen seized three Hamas militants outside a mosque, shot them, and dumped them with stomach and leg injuries at a gas station. One of the Hamas men later died of his wounds at a hospital.
Hamas held Fatah gunmen responsible for the attack near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Hamas said the kidnappers were members of the Preventive Security Service.
In a new twist, a 1,000-strong unit of gunmen made its debut Wednesday, marching through Gaza City in black T-shirts and bandanas.
They professed support for the Hamas militia, even though the logos on their T-shirts identified them as Fatah loyalists.
Fatah immediately distanced itself from the unit.
The new unit's commander, Khaled Abu Hilal, is a former Fatah member who has since been disowned by the group and serves as spokesman of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry.
Also yesterday, Nasser Shaer of Hamas, the deputy Palestinian premier, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the government would support a task force that favors negotiations with Israel -- a way of finessing Hamas's refusal to talk with Israel.
But Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, told the Associated Press by telephone from Damascus, ``Hamas has not and will not negotiate [with Israel]."