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Palestinian official killed by bomb in Lebanon

Kamal Medhat, the No. 2 man in the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon and a key member of the U.S.- backed Fatah faction, and three bodyguards are killed when a blast hits their car.

March 24, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei

BEIRUT — A roadside bomb Monday killed a senior Palestinian official in southern Lebanon near a refugee camp that has been the site of recent violence, local media reported.

Kamal Medhat, the No. 2 leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon and a ranking member of the Fatah faction, and three of his associates were killed near the port city of Sidon.

The blast threw Medhat's dark late-model Mercedes off the road and into an adjacent field. Amateur video taken at the scene showed bystanders rushing to carry the dead and injured from the vehicle, calling out, "God is great!"

The attack threatens to undermine attempts by Fatah, which is backed by the United States, and the militant group Hamas, supported by Iran, to forge a unified government and heal a rift within the Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have been under rival administrations since 2007.

It also threatened to disturb a barely-holding calm inside the politically volatile Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. Abbas Zaki, the Palestinian envoy to Lebanon, called for "self-restraint" among the refugees, the national news agency reported.

A United Nations official said the attack had spurred tensions in the camps, which function as autonomous enclaves largely off-limits to Lebanese security forces. The areas were being closely monitored to ward off further violence.

"God willing, this incident will not have any negative implications on the security level," Zaki told reporters at the site of the explosion in Sidon. "The one who killed Medhat, whoever he was, is serving Israel."

Medhat, a confidant of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, fought against Israel from Lebanon in the 1970s as a military commander. "He dedicated his life to serve his people and his cause," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

Nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, the majority of them in hardscrabble camps that have grown into cramped, impoverished towns kept afloat by international relief agencies.

The Sidon area hosts the Mieh Mieh camp, which was the site of factional clashes Saturday that left at least two dead, and the Ein el Hilwa camp, notorious as a hotbed for Sunni Muslim radicals with ties to foreign militant groups. Fatah is widely derided among such Islamic radicals for making peace with Israel and continuing talks.

Despite hostility between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, the tensions have rarely spilled over to Lebanon, where leaders of both groups emphasize unity. Hamas' Lebanon representative, Osama Hamdan, condemned Medhat's killing in an interview with Hezbollah's Al Manar television station and said Israel was the main suspect.

The explosion occurred between a checkpoint of the Lebanese army and one manned by Palestinian factions near the Mieh Mieh camp outside Sidon, said Mounir Makdah, a Fatah official responsible for security in the camps.

"The aim of the assassination is to create tension in the Palestinian camps at a time when the Palestinian factions are carrying on a dialogue," said Makdah, who is based in the Ein el Hilwa camp, where a long-standing struggle for power pits secular against Islamist factions.

"There is a lot of anger, but the security situation in the camps is calm," he said.

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daragahi@latimes.com

Rafei is a special correspondent.

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