updated 12/23/2006 7:53:11 AM ET 2006-12-23T12:53:11

Assailants fired on the car of a senior Palestinian security official Saturday, wounding him, a bodyguard and a girl in intensifying factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday he hopes to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the coming week, but said no date has been set. The meeting would be the first between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a year and a half.

Earlier in the day, Hamas gunmen and security forces allied with Abbas briefly exchanged fire near Abbas’ Gaza City compound and the Hamas-run Foreign Ministry.

The deadly confrontations began nearly two weeks ago, with a shooting ambush that killed the three young children of an Abbas-allied intelligence officer.

The confrontations intensified with Abbas’ announcement last week that he is seeking new elections, a challenge to the Islamic militant group Hamas. Hamas has accused Abbas of trying to topple its 10-month-old government. A truce was called on Tuesday, but fighting has continued.

Abbas ally in critical condition
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s drive-by shooting in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The target, Hassan Jarbouh, is the deputy chief of the Rafah branch of the Preventive Security Service, which is loyal to Abbas. Preventive Security blamed Hamas for the attack.

Jarbouh was in critical condition. His bodyguard and the girl, a bystander, suffered moderate wounds.

In all, 17 people have been killed and scores wounded in factional fighting, including heavy gun battles in densely populated neighborhoods, since the ambush on the young children.

Along with his challenge to Hamas, Abbas also has stepped up efforts to resume peace talks with Israel. His aides have said he’s hoping a breakthrough with Israel will boost his popularity and present him as a clear alternative to Hamas in a possible political contest.

Abbas’ aides have met repeatedly with advisers to Olmert to work out the terms of a summit, which would be the first between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a year and a half.

Meeting expected soon
Israel Radio reported Saturday that Olmert’s aides expect the meeting to take place in the coming week, but that no date has been set.

Asked about a meeting, Abbas said he hoped it would take place “before the end of the year.”

Abbas also was asked about a reported Hamas proposal to seek an interim deal with Israel, including the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders. Abbas rejected the idea, saying any negotiations with Israel must be aimed at reaching a final peace accord.

Abbas also said he is willing to resume talks on a unity government with Hamas, but only if a deadline is set. Talks broke down last month, prompting Abbas to announce he is seeking new elections.

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