- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A top militant with ties to Hamas was killed by a car bomb yesterday, and his followers blamed security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement for the assassination.

A shootout at the militant’s funeral killed three more persons and wounded more than 20, raising the possibility of a wider Hamas-Fatah clash just two days after Hamas assumed power, replacing Fatah at the helm of the Palestinian Authority.

The militant, Abu Yousef Abu Quka, was a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an umbrella group of about 200 gunmen. About half the gunmen are allied with Hamas, including Abu Quka, and the other half with Fatah. Abu Quka’s supporters blamed the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Services for his assassination.

Hamas has pledged to restore order in the lawless Gaza Strip and West Bank. However, Palestinian security forces, most of them affiliated with Fatah, are involved in the violence, and Hamas has little control over them.

Late Thursday, an offshoot of Fatah carried out its first suicide bombing against Israel since a February 2005 truce, killing four Israelis in the West Bank. Mr. Abbas, a moderate who wants to restart peace talks with Israel, denounced the attack.

Abu Quka was killed yesterday when his white Subaru blew up in a Gaza City street. The PRC initially blamed Israel, which denied involvement, and then pointed to the Preventive Security Service. “There is a long history of conflict between us,” said PRC spokesman Abu Abir, an Abu Quka ally. “The Preventive Security always tries to demean our members.”

Mr. Abir said that gunmen loyal to Mohammed Dahlan, the powerful former Preventive Security Service chief in Gaza and a Fatah lawmaker in the new Palestinian parliament, were caught spying on Abu Quka’s home Thursday.

Palestinian intelligence officials said Abu Quka was a known Hamas supporter, and appeared to have been targeted for his loyalties.

Mr. Dahlan, who was traveling in the United Arab Emirates, dismissed the PRC’s assertions as “baseless, ugly accusations.”

When Mr. Abir called a press conference to discuss the killing, rival gunmen burst on the scene, sparking a shootout. Hospital officials said two boys, ages 15 and 13, were wounded, one seriously.

With tensions heightened, gunfire broke out at the funeral. Hospital officials said three persons were killed, including two bystanders and a PRC member who had joined the procession. Twenty-five others were wounded.

Hamas’ new interior minister, Said Siyam, who is in charge of several security agencies including preventive security, pledged to bring Abu Quka’s killers to justice and called for national unity. “We regret the exchange of accusations and mentioning of names,” he said.

Yesterday’s unrest came hours after Fatah-linked militants carried out a suicide bombing in the West Bank. The attack was carried out by a militant who disguised himself as a Jewish hitchhiker and then killed himself and four persons in a car that picked him up.

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