Militants killed as Gaza is gripped by feuding

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The Independent Online

A Fatah area security commander was killed in an explosion when his car was attacked by armed men in Gaza City last night. The killing came after a day of violence in which a Hamas militant was shot dead by masked gunmen.

A security source said Nabil Hodhod, head of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Service in central Gaza, was killed when a grenade was thrown at his car. A colleague was wounded in the attack.

The incident brings the number of Palestinians killed in factional violence this month to ten as an intensifying power struggle takes place among Palestinians over control of the security services between the elected Hamas government and the former Fatah regime.

Yesterday's incidents came four days after Tarek Abu Rajab, the Gaza head of intelligence, was wounded by an explosion in the lift at his office.

The latest incident in an increasingly volatile Gaza Strip came after four Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Ramallah after rioting during an army operation to arrest an Islamic Jihad militant, Mohammed Shubaki. The army said an undercover Israeli unit was fired on by militants and set on fire. Television footage showed stones and rocks being thrown at army vehicles as they entered the city's main Manara Square.

In the earlier outbreak of violence in Gaza, a group of armed and masked men seized three Hamas militants outside a mosque in the southern town of Khan Yunis and then dumped them with stomach and leg injuries at a petrol station. One of the three, named as Salem Kadih, later died of his injuries in hospital.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, will today launch an urgent appeal to try to heal the increasingly dangerous divisions over control of security between armed sections of Hamas and his own Fatah organisation, which was defeated by Hamas in the January parliamentary elections. Officials in both the main factions acknowledged an immediate priority for the "national dialogue" between all the Palestinian groupings was to find some way out of the mounting security crisis.

This intensified last week after Said Siyam, the Palestinian interior minister, who is in Hamas, ordered armed units in a reportedly 3,000-strong "support force" on to the streets with the stated objective of restoring law and order in Gaza. Both factions yesterday reiterated public calls by Hamas's Ishmail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, for restraint ahead of today's meeting, at which 250 delegates linked by video-conference between Ramallah and Gaza will seek to achieve a measure of unity.

The internal Palestinian violence and the Palestinian deaths in Ramallah came as the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and his team appeared increasingly confident that they have been given a better than expected degree of support by the Bush administration to go ahead with Mr Olmert's "realignment plan". This will involve the withdrawal from much of the West Bank while consolidating and annexing the biggest West Bank settlement blocks west of the 450 mile separation barrier.

Although Mr Bush stopped well short of an immediate formal endorsement of the plan, aides to Mr Olmert made it clear that the negotiations with Mr Abbas would fail if Hamas continued to refuse recognition of Israel or a renunciation of all violence in the future. Mr Olmert who was warmly welcomed when he addressed both house of Congress yesterday told the legislators: "Your continued support... which transcends partisan affiliations, is of paramount importance to us."

Groups of armed men belonging to both factions took up positions on street corners throughout central Gaza City yesterday.