GAZA CITY -- Palestinian leaders condemned the predawn assassination of the former head of general security in Gaza yesterday, pledging to capture his killers to demonstrate that the elected government is in control of this coastal strip.
Moussa Arafat, a cousin of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was dragged from his three-story home here by more than a dozen gunmen shortly before 5 a.m. and shot in the street. His son, Manhal, a major in the Palestinian military intelligence service, was kidnapped. Three bodyguards were also taken from the house but were soon released unharmed.
Hours later, the Popular Resistance Committees, a faction comprising disaffected members of various Palestinian parties, asserted responsibility for the assassination carried out less than a half-mile from the Palestinian Authority's fortified presidential compound.
Moussa Arafat, a founding member of the ruling Fatah movement, had a reputation for corruption that made him unpopular among many Palestinian factions, including his own. Arafat, who was in his 60s, held the rank of minister and served as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's military affairs adviser, a symbolic position he held after being fired as head of Gaza's general security agency in April.
The website of the Haaretz newspaper reported that Abbas, the authority president, has canceled his visit next week to the United Nations because of the deteriorating security situation and the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government withdrew troops and residents from all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and is scheduled to begin handing over land, water wells, and other assets to the Palestinian Authority next week.
The brazen nature of Arafat's killing turned it into an awkward test of Abbas's ability to confront the armed Palestinian groups struggling for political control of Gaza. Although Arafat's notorious reputation made his death unlikely to cause conflict among the factions, Palestinian security services could face resistance in moving to capture his killers.
''The way this was carried out underlines a very strong message, even if that message may not have been intended," said Ziad Abu Amr, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who often serves as a mediator among Palestinian factions. ''It points out the chronic failure of the Palestinian Authority to establish law and order in Gaza and the price it is now paying for past decisions not to do so."
Abbas, who was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January, convened an emergency meeting of his security chiefs and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in the hours after the killing. Abbas condemned the assassination through Information Minister Nabil Shaath, who called it a ''heinous crime." Interior Minister Nasser Yusef placed Palestinian security services on high alert.
Following the meeting, Shaath suggested that the assassination was timed to raise doubts about the Palestinian Authority's ability to maintain order in Gaza. ''We are saying that we can take responsibility," he said. ''We will take all the steps necessary, and I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind: This is not political resistance to the occupation. This is a crime by any definition -- no justifications, no pretext."
The Popular Resistance Committees coalesced shortly after the Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000. Most of its members once belonged to Fatah, although it has moved closer to the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, in recent years.