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Senior Islamic Jihad Commander Killed in Gaza Blast
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Islamic Jihad's most senior commander in the Gaza Strip was killed on Wednesday 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, 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 denied any involvement, saying it did not operate in Gaza.

But Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "Whoever hears the news knows that not a day goes by when our security forces don't receive an order and don't act to prevent an attempted attack, to reach the murderers by surprise before they can get an attack rolling."

In a speech ahead of March 28 general election, Olmert vowed Israel would not permit "a single launcher of rockets to get a moment of rest. We will seek them out everywhere and reach them ... without compromise or hesitation, day and night."

Describing Dahdouh's death as an assassination, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called for world pressure on Israel to resume peace talks.

Prospects for a resumption of negotiations have dimmed since the Islamic militant group Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, heavily defeated Abbas's Fatah faction in a January 25 election.

Olmert said Israel regarded Hamas as an enemy but would pursue even "the slightest flicker of hope" for peace.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on a visit to Vienna that Israel didn't rule out talks with Hamas if it recognized the Jewish state and renounced violence.

"I never say never," she told reporters.

Chants of revenge

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

Separately, two Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli at a settlement near Nablus in an attack claimed by Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in Fatah, as revenge for a raid last week in Nablus in which eight Palestinians died.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said stocks of wheat, sugar and cooking oil in Gaza would begin to run out within days unless Israel reopened the strip's main crossing point for goods.

Israeli officials defended their closure of the Karni crossing as a security precaution and said the Palestinians had declined their offer to reroute supplies via another crossing.

But as international pressure mounted, Israel signaled that Karni would reopen as early as Thursday. "It is not our policy to punish the Palestinians, not at all," Livni said.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies March 2, 2006)

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