JERUSALEM — Security cooperation with Israel is impossible in the wake of its three-week assault on the Palestinian Authority, a key Palestinian official said Monday as he stood outside his heavily damaged headquarters.
The comments of Col. Jibril Rajoub underscored the daunting task U.S. diplomats face in trying to rebuild trust between Israeli and Palestinian security services as Israel winds down its military operation. Israeli officials are discussing scenarios for expelling Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and erecting buffer zones in the West Bank along Israel's pre-1967 border.
Many Israeli and U.S. officials have considered Rajoub a moderate, and even a desirable successor to Arafat. He has kept his Preventive Security Service fighters in the West Bank out of the 19-month-old conflict with Israel and has periodically arrested militants planning attacks.
But the gravelly voiced security chief said Monday that the Israelis had "succeeded in creating a sea of blood and hatred. The Israelis have also created a security vacuum."
"There will be no further security cooperation with the Israelis," he said after giving reporters a tour of his wrecked compound in the village of Beitunia.
Not far away, the power of Palestinian militias was on chilling display in a downtown Ramallah square. Masked gunmen pulled three Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel out of a taxi and shot them as a large crowd watched.
Footage shot by a foreign television crew showed one of the three bleeding on the pavement as some in the crowd tried to prevent ambulances from approaching.
One of the three later died in a Ramallah hospital. Witnesses said the gunmen shouted that they were with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction, and had shot the men because they were believed to have informed on Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who was arrested by the Israeli army during the offensive.
Five Palestinians, three in the Gaza Strip and two in the West Bank, were reportedly shot dead by Israeli soldiers in other clashes Monday.
An Israeli soldier serving with an elite unit was shot dead by Palestinians in the northern West Bank. The Israeli army said two gunmen, described as senior activists in the militant Islamic movement Hamas, also were killed in that clash.
Two other Palestinians, described by an army spokesman as "armed terrorists," were killed near a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where they were shot by an Israeli undercover unit. Palestinians said an unidentified man was shot dead by Israeli troops near a Jewish settlement in Gaza. The army said it was checking the report.
Later, news reports quoted residents of Hebron as saying Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car, killing the local commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Marwan Zalloum, and another man.
U.S. envoy William Burns met for two hours with Arafat in the Palestinian leader's battered Ramallah headquarters, where Israel has confined him along with about 300 aides and peace activists in a few rooms since March 29.
The two discussed ways of resolving a dispute over five wanted men sheltering in Arafat's compound and dozens of gunmen holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. Israel says four of the men with Arafat participated in the October assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. The fifth, Fuad Shubaki, played a key role in purchasing a shipment of arms from Iran that Israel intercepted at sea in January. The Israelis want to put all five on trial.
Mohammed Rashid, an Arafat aide, said the meeting with Burns had not been positive.
"The situation now is very dangerous, very sensitive," Palestinian Minister of Information Yasser Abed-Rabbo said in a telephone interview.
In Bethlehem, gunmen exchanged heavy fire Monday night with Israeli troops ringing the 4th century Church of the Nativity.
More than 200 people, including dozens of priests, nuns and civilians as well as gunmen, are barricaded inside the church, which is built above the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born. Israel is demanding that the gunmen surrender and face permanent exile abroad or military tribunals.
A 20-year-old man who was shot in the leg when he stepped outside the church late last week said about 140 Palestinian civilians, including about 50 youths, were trapped inside and too frightened to leave.
Thaer Mohammed Manasra, an unemployed mechanic, said he had discussed surrendering with several other Palestinians. He said gunmen discouraged the group from leaving.
"They told us: The Israelis will shoot you," Manasra said from his bed in a Jerusalem hospital Monday. "We were scared of both sides. The ones on the inside and the ones on the outside both have guns."
Manasra is one of a handful of people who have managed to leave the church. A 13-year-old boy slipped out earlier in the standoff, and five men surrendered Sunday and were taken prisoner.