Palestinian Militant Faction Leader Killed

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 10:25 PM

RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- A top enforcer for Hamas in Gaza accused of spearheading rocket attacks against Israel was killed in an Israeli air strike late Thursday, an attack that threatened to escalate clashes between the two sides.

The anti-Israel Hamas government called the death of Jamal Abu Samhadana a direct assault on the Palestinian Authority, and vowed to continue its fight against the Jewish state. Abu Samhadana's Popular Resistance Committees faction vowed revenge.

The Israeli military confirmed the strike against the PRC training camp in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, saying militants there were planning a large-scale attack on Israel. It would not confirm or deny that Abu Samhadana, the No. 2 man on Israel's wanted list, had been the target.

He and other militants had been about to enter the training camp in the former Jewish settlement of Rafiah Yam when the missiles struck. Three other militants were killed and 10 were wounded in the attack, the Palestinians said.

Earlier in the day, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the leader on Saturday will announce that a national referendum will be held likely on July 31 on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Opinion polls show broad public support for the proposal, which would implicitly recognize Israel. Still, across Gaza on Thursday, thousands vowed to boycott the planned vote.

"We are not going to recognize Israel, and we are not going to lay down our weapons," chanted some of the 4,000 referendum opponents from Hamas and two smaller Palestinian militant groups in Gaza City.

As the leader of the small PRC faction, Abu Samhadana was accused of being a key player in rocket attacks on Israel and a suspect in the fatal 2003 bombing of a U.S. convoy in the Gaza Strip that left three American guards dead.

Since Hamas was elected to power in January, it has not been directly involved in attacks against Israel, but is suspected of backing other factions' attacks.

The militant's recent appointment as director general of the Hamas-led Interior Ministry infuriated both Israel and Hamas' Fatah rivals, led by Abbas. It also set the stage for recent Hamas-Fatah violence that has killed 10 people and raised the specter of all-out civil war.

In an interview last week with The Associated Press, he vowed not to take Hamas' 3,000-strong militia _ black-clad gunmen off the streets, despite criticism by Hamas' detractors that it's a major source of friction and instability.

He also railed against the U.S. government during the interview _ held at a clandestine location _ saying he's happy whenever American soldiers are killed.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Associated Press