GAZA - Gunmen dragged the former Palestinian security chief Moussa Arafat from his Gaza home and shot him dead in the street yesterday, fuelling fears of turmoil ahead of Israel's final withdrawal of soldiers from the occupied territory.
Major-general Arafat was the most senior Palestinian figure killed in internal violence that has raised doubts over the ability of security forces to keep order in a possible power struggle for the Gaza Strip - seen as a testing ground for Palestinian statehood.
A cousin of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he was a local strongman who had retained an advisory role to President Mahmoud Abbas after being fired as head of military intelligence.
Gunmen with rifles and antitank grenades battled the guards at his house for more than 30 minutes before storming in and pulling him outside, witnesses said.
A Palestinian militant coalition, the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility for the killing and the kidnapping of his son.
Arafat had never shied from using an iron fist and had many enemies within the ruling Fatah movement and armed factions that dominate in Gaza.
The security chief was sacked by Abbas during a cleanout, under local and foreign pressure, of Yasser Arafat's old guard, who were widely seen as incompetent and corrupt.
Despite reforms, there are widespread concerns that Palestinian security forces will not be able to keep the peace after Israel pulls troops out of Gaza this month.
A plethora of forces and militant groups all hope for a share of power in Gaza, the first entire territory that Palestinians will have had to rule without an Israeli military presence.
Abbas got militant groups to follow the truce he agreed to with Israel in February to allow the smooth evacuation of settlers, but favours debate over confrontation when it comes to getting the factions to lay down their weapons.
Israeli and Palestinian officials expect the Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza to be finished by September 15. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due to meet aides last night to finalise details for the handover.
Some Israelis suggested the timetable could be accelerated after a Palestinian man was shot by soldiers and three others wounded when they tried to force their way into a demolished settlement.
* A cousin of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
* Sacked as head of military intelligence by President Mahmoud Abbas in April during a clean out of the old guard.
* Abbas later appointed Arafat as a security adviser to assuage his anger at being fired, but he no longer held more than local power.
* Arafat, 64, ensured that he looked the part as a major-general with his greying, carefully clipped moustache and neatly pressed uniform.
* Feared by many in Gaza and liked by few, he had a reputation for being quick to use force.
* Had survived several assassination attempts, including a car bomb last year.
* His enemies included many figures within the ruling Fatah movement and militant groups such as Hamas.
* Was one of the leaders of a violent crackdown on Hamas in the 1990s.
- REUTERSBy Nidal Al-mughrabi