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Senior Islamic Jihad commander killed in Gaza blast

Written by: Staff

GAZA, March 1 (Reuters) Islamic Jihad's most senior commander in the Gaza Strip was killed today by an explosion that tore through his car, the Palestinian militant group said, blaming the Israeli army, which denied involvement.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli at a petrol station outside a Jewish settlement south of the city of Nablus and wounded an Israeli motorist in a separate attack near the city of Qalqilya, the army said.

Witnesses to the death of Abu al-Waleed al-Dahdouh, head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing in the Gaza Strip, said his car blew up as he opened one of its doors and that an Israeli military aircraft was flying overhead at the time.

''The Israeli army did not operate in Gaza,'' a military spokeswoman said. ''It wasn't us.'' Describing Dahdouh's death as an assassination, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called for international pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table.

Prospects for a resumption of peacemaking have dimmed since the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, scored a crushing victory over Abbas's Fatah faction in a January. 25 election.

The Israeli army has acknowledged killing dozens of militants in strikes in the Gaza Strip since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000. Dozens of gunmen have also died when explosives they were transporting detonated prematurely.

Chanting ''revenge, revenge'', hundreds of Islamic Jihad gunmen gathered outside Gaza's Shifa Hospital after hearing that Dahdouh's body had been brought there.

''This is an Israeli assassination that killed one of our most important commanders,'' said Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader.

Abu Adallah, a spokesman for the group, said: ''Our rockets will rain down on (Israelis). Islamic Jihad's armed wing will not remain silent and will respond with all its might to avenge the death of its leader.'' Dahdouh was killed hours after militants in Gaza fired a rocket towards the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon.

Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged in the run-up to a March 28 general election to take strong measures against militant groups behind such attacks.

At the entrance to Migdalim settlement, southwest of Nablus, two Palestinian gunmen shot an Israeli in the head, killing him, a military spokeswoman. Several hours later, an Israeli motorist was shot and wounded in the neck near Qalqilya.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in Fatah, claimed responsibility for the Migdalim shooting.

It said it was avenging Israel's killing of eight Palestinians, gunmen and stone-throwers, during an Israeli raid into Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus last week.

Earlier today, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted military sources as predicting that militants aligned with Fatah would step up attacks on Israelis in the West Bank in a bid to ''regain relevance'' now that Hamas had defeated the faction at the polls.


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