Islamic Jihad Leader Assassinated In Gaza
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Masked men killed an Islamic Jihad leader in a drive-by shooting today, and Muslim militants blaming Israel threatened to strike back with new attacks.
Islamic Jihad, with a few thousand followers, has been trying to derail the Israel-PLO autonomy agreement.
Mahmoud Khawaja served 10 years in Israeli prisons as a leader of Islamic Jihad’s military wing. In recent months, he has been questioned twice by PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s security forces.
Khawaja was killed this morning in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. Witnesses said he was working as a garbage collector for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency when a blue Peugeot drove up with three men inside.
One of two masked men inside opened fire from a pistol fitted with a silencer, killing Khawaja on the spot.
Islamic Jihad blamed Palestinian collaborators with Israel for the assassination and threatened to carry out revenge attacks.
``The hands of the traitors came out from under the arms of the criminal (Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin to assassinate our hero and martyr, Mahmoud,″ said an Islamic Jihad leaflet.
``The killers will regret this because for each head we will take a thousand,″ the leaflet said.
Khawaja’s death marked the second assassination of an Islamic Jihad leader in seven months. On Nov. 2, another top official, Hani Abed, was killed when a car bomb exploded.
Palestinian police say they are holding several suspected collaborators who confessed that they received orders from Israel’s Shin Bet security service to kill Abed.
Islamic Jihad carried out three bloody attacks to avenge Abed’s death, including a Jan. 22 suicide bombing in Israel in which 21 people were killed.
The killing of Khawaja came after months of relative calm in the Gaza Strip. It could undermine a discreet dialogue Arafat’s administration has been holding with Islamic Jihad and a larger Muslim militant faction, Hamas.