HEBRON, West Bank — An explosion leveled the office of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction in this troubled West Bank city Friday night, killing a member of the group's military wing and injuring eight others.
Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub refused to comment on the cause of the blast. However, other security officials said that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at the one-story building.
But Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, flatly denied any Israeli role in the explosion. Israeli military sources described what happened as a "work accident" — a term used when bombs explode prematurely.
"I was walking and I heard a big explosion, and everyone heard it," said Mohammed Jabai, 34, "There was helicopter in the area, but I didn't see it shoot any missiles."
Marwan Barghouti, head of the Tanzime in the West Bank, said Israel had fired on the building in "a dangerous escalation that is going to lead to a broad and angry Palestinian reaction."
Palestinians dug through the debris of the building — located at the center of the Palestinian-controlled area of Hebron. The body of Rajai Abu Rajab, an activist in the Tanzim, Fatah's military wing, was found in the wreckage. The injured were passers-by and were not members of Tanzim or Fatah.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian security and intelligence officials said a 35-year-old activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a splinter Palestinian faction that opposes peacemaking with Israel, was abducted by plainclothes Israeli operatives.
The Israeli army refused to comment.
The Palestinian sources said Ahmed Taha was driving a car when the operatives cut in front, jumped out and snatched him. The car headed off toward Jerusalem, the sources said.
The violence came amid worries about Palestinian retaliation after the killings of three Palestinians — including a 3-month-old baby — the night before — slayings claimed by an extremist Jewish group. At the victims' funeral processions Friday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas passed out leaflets vowing to "teach the Zionist enemy a lesson it will never forget."
The Israeli government condemned the shooting deaths, while authorities said it could be a sign of a re-emergence of Jewish extremists.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Friday gave the first indication that Israel may be willing to bend in its opposition to outsiders monitoring a cease-fire that largely unraveled without ever taking hold. Palestinians long have called for third-party observers.
Ben-Eliezer told Israeli television Friday that he opposes any observers, but "if something will be imposed on us then, without any other possibility, I will accept the presence of the CIA here." His spokesman, Yarden Vatikai, said the defense minister was referring only to an extreme situation. Then, Vatikai said, "something that could be considered would be an enlargement of the CIA presence here," but not "some kind of active force."
Raanan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman, said Israel was opposed to any deployment of any type of force. "The position is clear; anything like deployment or placement of observers, U.N. forces or anything, we are opposed to it," Gissin said.
The CIA currently coordinates Israeli-Palestinian security meetings.