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Militant killed in gunbattle at training site

©Associated Press

March 21, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- A gunbattle erupted Thursday in northern Gaza, killing one militant, after Palestinian authorities tried to break up a Hamas training session on how to fire homemade rockets at Israel.

The gunfight came hours after Mahmoud Abbas, a pragmatic Palestinian leader and No. 2 in the Palestine Liberation Organization, accepted the new post of prime minister. The appointment marked a major step toward U.S.-sought reform and raised hopes that Israeli-Palestinian fighting might wind down after 30 bloody months.

Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has been an outspoken critic of shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis, and international mediators expect him to take tough steps against Palestinian militants.

One of his challenges will be to stop the firing of short-range Qassam rockets from northern Gaza at Israeli border towns. Israel has responded harshly to such attacks, raiding Palestinian towns and threatening to reoccupy parts of Gaza if the firing persists. No Israeli has been killed or seriously hurt by the rockets.

In recent months, Palestinian security forces have sporadically patrolled the areas where Qassam rockets are launched, but have largely been unable to prevent the rocket fire.

Late Wednesday, officers from the Palestinian intelligence service saw several Hamas members in a field near the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Hamas activists, who were training to fire Qassam rockets, were arrested. Hamas reinforcements arrived and a gunbattle erupted.

A Hamas member was killed and two were wounded in the standoff, which ended early Thursday, Hamas said.

Hamas has clashed repeatedly with Palestinian security forces, but has stopped short of an all-out confrontation. The group reiterated Thursday that it opposes civil war and "forbids the shedding of Palestinian blood."

AMERICAN HIT: An American activist in a pro-Palestinian group said he was injured Thursday by rubber-coated steel pellets fired by Israeli soldiers, days after an Israeli army bulldozer crushed an American from the same group.

Eric Williams Howanietz, 21, of Chicago said he was hit in the arm, upper chest and ankle as he watched Palestinian youths throw stones at Israeli army jeeps in Nablus.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment. The clash erupted as soldiers searched for Palestinian militants. In all, 25 suspects were arrested.

Howanietz said he was several yards from the youths and 25 yards from the soldiers when he was shot.

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