GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip A Gaza security chief loyal to the Palestinian president was killed Wednesday when his car blew up, the second attack on a top commander in less than a week.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the explosion came at a time of an increasingly bloody power struggle between President Mahmoud Abbas' forces and those of the Hamas-led government.
In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers waged a fierce battle with Palestinians during a raid to arrest a top militant, killing three people and wounding more than 30.
Nabil Hodhod, central Gaza commander of the powerful, Fatah-linked Preventive Security force, was killed when a blast ripped through his car in downtown Gaza City, not far from Shifa Hospital. His deputy was wounded.
Hodhod was the highest-ranking official to be killed in a week of violent incidents, sparked by Hamas' fielding of its own militia in defiance of a ban by Abbas. Two other senior security officers have been targeted.
On Saturday, intelligence chief Tareq Abu Rajab was seriously wounded in an explosion in his Gaza office, and on Sunday, Palestinian security found a huge bomb on the road used by security commander Rashid Abu Shbak to drive to his office, an apparent assassination attempt.
Abu Shbak, a Fatah stalwart, has become a symbol of the conflict. Abbas appointed him to command three security forces nominally under the authority of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry. Hamas responded by deploying its own 3,000-strong militia made up of militants.
Even before Hodhod was killed late Wednesday afternoon, tensions were running high in Gaza.
Masked gunmen seized three Hamas militants outside a mosque, shot them and dumped them with stomach and leg injuries at a gas station. One of the Hamas men later died of his wounds at a hospital.
Hamas held Fatah gunmen responsible for the attack near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Hamas said the kidnappers were members of the Preventive Security Service.
In a new twist, a 1,000-strong unit of gunmen made its debut Wednesday, marching through Gaza City in black T-shirts and bandanas. They professed support for the Hamas militia, even though the logos on their T-shirts identified them as Fatah loyalists.
Fatah immediately distanced itself from the unit. The new unit's commander, Khaled Abu Hilal, is a former Fatah member who has since been disowned by the group and serves as spokesman of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry.