ISRAEL denies involvement in death of Palestinian official killed in car explosion

Saturday, September 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ A powerful explosion ripped a car carrying a top aide to the Palestinian intelligence chief on Saturday, killing him and critically injuring a bodyguard. Palestinians accused Israel of assassinating the official, but Israel denied involvement.

Later, a blast in a taxi near the West Bank town of Tulkarem killed a 22-year-old Palestinian woman and injured four other people, according to Palestinian security officials. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

In the first explosion, Col. Tayser Khattab, 52, was driving toward his office at Palestinian intelligence headquarters north of Gaza City when his car exploded. Palestinian police said a bomb apparently was planted in the car and set off by remote control.

One witness, grocery store owner Ziad Sharkh, said the blast sent car parts flying into the air. ``I saw Khattab passing by and then a minute later I heard a big explosion and I saw fire coming from the car,'' Sharkh said.

Parts of the car landed 65 feet from the blast site. A car seat was thrown more than 30 feet. Khattab was taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in critical condition but died soon after, said Dr. Moawi Hassanan.

Khattab was a top aide to the Palestinian intelligence chief, Amin al-Hindi, and was also a member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. He was described as a senior bureaucrat who was very close to al-Hindi.

Al-Hindi's office said in a statement that Khattab was killed in an ``ugly assassination'' by Israel. However, Yarden Vatikay, an adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, denied Israel was involved.

``It's again a Palestinian lie, and it is not Israel which carried out this explosion,'' Vatikay said.

Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the killing was connected to a feud between Palestinian organizations. Although denying involvement in this death, officials reaffirmed Israel's policy of carrying out targeted killings of Palestinians suspected of planning and carrying out terror attacks.

Since the outbreak of fighting, about 50 Palestinians have been killed in targeted Israeli attacks. Most were militants suspected of planning attacks on Israelis, but several bystanders, including women and children, have also been killed.

Khattab's funeral was held later Saturday, with top Palestinian security officers in attendance. The casket, draped in a Palestinian flag, was carried by pallbearers from the Palestinian police, and dozens of policemen fired guns into the air.

Khattab's boss, al-Hindi, has met sporadically throughout the 11 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting with Israeli counterparts, as part of CIA-led efforts to restore security cooperation between the two sides. However, the most recent meetings this summer broke down, with each side holding the other responsible for the ongoing violence.

In the West Bank, an explosion in a taxi killed Abeer Al-Samra, 22. The cause of the blast was not immediately known, but Palestinian security officials suggested either a bomb in the car or a missile fired by an Israeli helicopter. The army said it knew nothing about the incident.

Palestinian security officials said that Al-Samra was the wife of a well-known gunman, Ahmed Tabok, a Fatah member currently held in a Palestinian jail.

Said Jawabre, a passenger in the taxi who was moderately wounded in the explosion, said Al-Samra had appeared to be in a hurry. He recalled seeing a flash from the front of the taxi, where Al-Samra had been sitting next to the driver, who was seriously injured in the explosion. He said he didn't hear a helicopter.

Meanwhile, an 8-year-old Israeli child was slightly wounded Saturday when Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Jewish settlement in Hebron, the army said. Gunfire exchanges in the divided city have continued sporadically over the previous 48 hours, with at least five Palestinians injured on Friday.