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Israel kills key Palestinian militant in strike

Death might fuel more attacks on border towns

Mubarak al-Hassanat, 37, was driving on Gaza's coastal road yesterday when his vehicle was hit by missiles. Mubarak al-Hassanat, 37, was driving on Gaza's coastal road yesterday when his vehicle was hit by missiles. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel killed a top Palestinian militant with a missile strike on his car yesterday, prompting threats of more rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

Earlier in the day, a Palestinian prisoner died of injuries sustained during a riot Monday at an Israeli desert prison. Israeli soldiers also killed two members of the Islamic Jihad group in a West Bank raid.

Mubarak al-Hassanat, 37, was driving in a black Jeep on Gaza's coastal road when the vehicle was struck by missiles. The Jeep veered off the road onto the beach, with its roof sheared off and the front twisted.

Hassanat was the most prominent militant to be killed in an air strike in more than a year. He was a senior official in the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza, which oversees the security forces.

He was also the second in command in the Popular Resistance Committees, a loose alliance of militants from various factions involved in rocket attacks on Israel.

Hassanat had gotten his start in the Fatah movement of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but over the years established closer ties with Hamas and then joined the PRC.

On Monday, Hassanat met with PRC members for five hours, said a spokesman, Abu Abir.

"He was recommending more resistance and more activities in the West Bank," Abu Abir told Hamas Radio. "His blood will be fuel for our rockets."

Palestinian militants in Gaza fire rockets and mortars almost daily, despite frequent Israeli air strikes and ground operations. The army said five rockets were fired at Israel yesterday.

The Israeli Prisons Service said Mohammed al-Ashkar, the prisoner wounded at the Ketziot prison, died yesterday at an Israeli hospital hours after he was hit by a "non-lethal weapon" fired by guards during a riot a day earlier. But it refused to say what means were used.

The prison guards' lives were in danger when they opened fire, it said.

Hamas's military wing hinted that in retaliation for the prisoner's death, it might harm Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captured in June 2006.

But Shalit is a bargaining chip for Hamas, which seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

Ashkar, a member of Islamic Jihad, was serving a two-year sentence for harboring a wanted militant.

Ketziot holds about 2,200 prisoners in tents. The riot erupted early Monday when guards searched for contraband. In the ensuing violence, 15 guards and 15 prisoners were injured. Israel said the prisoners set 10 tents on fire as part of their protest, but an unidentified prisoner said yesterday that an Israeli stun grenade caused the fire.

Israel is holding 11,000 Palestinian prisoners for security offenses ranging from membership in militant organizations to planning and carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Ashkar's death sparked rallies of several hundred Palestinians each in three West Bank towns and in Gaza City.

"We want the prisoners, not negotiations" with Israel, chanted a crowd of about 200 in the town of Ramallah.

In Gaza City, Nidal Saraffati, father of a 24-year-old man jailed in Israel, said inmates are subjected to regular abuses and their plight should unite all Palestinians.

"This is an attack on the family and the prisoners as well," he said. "We ask all the brothers to leave internal fighting behind. We have one common enemy."

In the West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian militants during a fierce gun battle, according to witnesses and army reports.

Islamic Jihad said the two dead men were its members, and one of them was a top leader in the West Bank.

The army said one soldier was lightly injured in the exchange of fire, which erupted shortly after soldiers surrounded a house used by wanted men.

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