Terrorist rivalry in Gaza leaves 4 dead scores wounded as 'mother of all turf wars' continues
March 31, 2006
March 31, 2006
By GREG MYRE
JERUSALEM, March 31 — A Palestinian militant was killed today when a bomb destroyed his car in Gaza City, and colleagues of the dead man accused the Palestinian security forces of involvement. The allegation set off gun battles in which three more Palestinians died.
Today's violence raised concerns of increased turmoil in the Palestinian areas, where the radical Islamic group Hamas took charge of the Palestinian Authority government just two days earlier.
Abu Youssef al-Quqa, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, was killed instantly when the white sedan he was driving blew up shortly after midday near the center of Gaza City. Hundreds of young men gathered around the charred and mangled vehicle, with many calling for revenge.
Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, which is made up of militants from various factions, held a news conference shortly afterward and accused the Palestinian security forces of collaborating with Israel in the bombing.
That charge angered members of the security forces, and shooting erupted between them and the Popular Resistance Committees, leaving two Palestinians wounded, witnesses said.
Several hours later, at the funeral for Mr. Quqa, more gunfights broke out and three Palestinians were killed and more than 20 wounded, according to the Palestinian security forces and witnesses.
Meanwhile, Israel's military, which generally acknowledges its role in killing wanted Palestinian militants, said it had nothing to do with today's bombing.
But Mr. Abir declared "an open war against the Zionist enemy," while the newly installed Palestinian Authority government also blamed Israel.
"It means that the Israeli aggression will not stop," said Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, the Palestinian foreign minister. "It means our resistance should continue."
In another development, the Hamas government defended a suicide bombing carried out Thursday night by the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which killed four Israelis at a gas station next to the Jewish settlement of Kedumim, in the northern West Bank.
"Resistance is a legitimate right for people under occupation," said Youssef Rizqa, the Palestinian information minister.
However, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is on a visit to South Africa, denounced the bombing.
"We condemn it and we don't think it will help the peace process," Mr. Abbas told a news conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
Mr. Abbas opposes attacks against Israel and seeks a resumption of negotiations, while Hamas has been responsible for many of the deadliest attacks in recent years, and refuses to recognize Israel.
The suicide bomber, who was apparently disguised as a religious Jew, set off his explosives inside an Israeli car after asking for a ride.
The four Israelis killed in the bombing included a couple, Rafi Halevy, 63, and his wife Helena, 59, along with Reut Feldman, 20 and Shaked Laskar, 16, Israeli officials said.
Israeli officials said the bomber, Mahmoud Masharka, had been held in a Palestinian prison, but was released several weeks ago.
"The Palestinian Authority is not stopping terror, it is actually encouraging terror," said Gideon Meir, of Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Israel today imposed even tighter restrictions on Palestinian movements in the northern West Bank, where the bombing occurred. Palestinian males ages 15 to 32 will not be allowed past military checkpoints in the Nablus area, the military said.
In an op-ed article published today in the British newspaper The Guardian, Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister who is a Hamas leader, wrote that the Palestinians "have every right to respond with all available means."
He also criticized the plan of Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who intends to draw Israel's borders by 2010, and is prepared to do it unilaterally. Mr. Olmert says he will remove some Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but will keep the largest settlement blocs.
"Olmert's unilateralism is a recipe for conflict," Mr. Haniya wrote. "It is a plan to impose a permanent situation in which the Palestinians end up with a homeland cut into pieces made inaccessible because of massive Jewish settlements built in contravention of international law on land seized illegally from the Palestinians."
Also today, Israeli forces carried out airstrikes and used naval guns to shell roads and open areas in the northern Gaza Strip that Palestinian militants have used when firing rockets into southern Israel. No casualties were reported.
In Israeli politics, the final vote count from Tuesday's parliamentary election gave the winning Kadima party one more seat than previously announced, for a total of 29.
Mr. Olmert and Kadima are to formally begin coalition talks with other parties on Sunday. Mr. Olmert needs at least 61 seats in his coalition for a majority in the 120-seat parliament.