Israeli missiles fired from the air ripped apart two cars in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing four Palestinian militants and wounding five other people, including an Islamic Jihad spokesman, the military and Palestinians said.
The strikes came as the Palestinians’ ruling Fatah Party slipped into disarray. Young activists split away and formed their own party for Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, rejecting attempts by old-timers to keep control of the party that has ruled Palestinian politics for decades.
But aides to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he still hoped to avert the split.
In marked contrast to Fatah’s chaos, the Islamic Hamas group unveiled a neatly chosen slate of parliamentary candidates, naming a well-known pragmatist to head the list in an apparent effort to woo mainstream Palestinians. The Fatah split, an embarrassment to Abbas, also was likely to help Hamas.
The airstrikes in eastern Gaza City were Israel’s third and fourth since it renewed the practice of targeting militants following a deadly suicide bombing in Israel on Dec. 5. Altogether, seven militants have been killed.
The Israeli missile set off explosives in the car, the military said, blasting it to pieces. Israeli army footage filmed by a drone aircraft showed a huge column of black smoke leaping from the stricken vehicle.
Israel said the militants, from the Popular Resistance Committees, were on their way to attack the Karni cargo crossing, a vital lifeline for Palestinian imports and exports.
A Popular Resistance spokesman who goes by the name of Abu Saed vowed revenge.
“The blood shed by the Zionists will not be shed in vain,” he said. “We will retaliate and send them the message that Palestinian sacrifice does not come cheap.”
The group was behind several deadly attacks against Israelis in Gaza, and some link PRC with an October 2003 bombing that killed three U.S. Marine guards in a U.S. embassy convoy in Gaza.
The second strike came after nightfall. Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, was slightly wounded when an Israeli missile was fired at his car, Islamic Jihad official Omar Shallah said, pledging to continue the struggle against Israel.
Israeli artillery hits Gaza
Later, Israeli artillery pounded northern Gaza after militants fired rockets at Israel, and aircraft fired two missiles at access roads, the military said. Two Palestinians were slightly wounded.
An Israeli helicopter also fired a missile at the house of a Popular Resistance Committees leader early Thursday in northern Gaza, wounding a relative, residents said. The military said the target was a PRC weapons storehouse.
In southern Gaza, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at an Islamic Jihad office. Nobody was hurt.
The first airstrike interrupted a news conference by Hamas at which group leaders were presenting their list of candidates for the parliamentary election, the first in a decade — and the first time Hamas is running.
Hamas has done well in three rounds of recent local elections and expects a strong showing in West Bank municipal elections Thursday.
The group has been building strength partly because of the bumbling of Abbas and his Fatah Party, unable to clean up rampant corruption, combat widespread poverty or take advantage of Israel’s pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer.
Hamas ideology does not accept a place for a Jewish state in the Middle East, and its suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis over five years of conflict. However, Hamas has largely kept a truce Abbas negotiated in February, showing its practical side.
Ismail Haniyeh headed Hamas’ list of candidates. Haniyeh’s pragmatism is relative — he does not recognize Israel or favor peace talks — but he has often expressed his support for the truce, which expires at the end of December.
Hamas hard-liner Mahmoud Zahar was relegated to the ninth slot. Ten women were among the 62 candidates, including widows of two Hamas notables killed in Israeli strikes — Jamila Shanti, wife of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Mona Mansour, widow of a West Bank Hamas leader.
Polling places hit
Fatah infighting has led to attacks on polling places during primary elections and, in recent days, assaults on election commission offices. Gunmen burst into Fatah headquarters Wednesday and exchanged fire with the bodyguards of a party leader. Three people were wounded.
In the hour before a midnight deadline, young Fatah activists registered their candidates under a new party named The Future, headed by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison.
Barghouti briefly entered the race to succeed the late Yasser Arafat in a January election but withdrew, leaving Abbas as the only Fatah candidate.
Half of the 132 members of parliament will be elected according to lists, with candidates at the top entering the parliament in proportion to the number of votes their parties received. The other half will be elected by districts.
Where Fatah primaries were held, young activists thrashed old-time, corruption-tainted colleagues of Arafat. But Abbas declared the primaries as just one of the factors in drawing the list — inserting the old guard back into prominent places.
That set off a rebellion among the young activists, ending in the party split.
Abbas’ supporters submitted their own list, but aides said Abbas and Barghouti talked by telephone and pledged to try to avert the split. A decision was expected Thursday. The aides said Barghouti also tops the old-time Fatah list.