Islamic Jihad leader killed in southern Lebanon

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in southern Lebanon died on Friday of wounds from a car bombing that also killed his brother, security officials said. The group blamed Israeli intelligence form the killings. Mahmoud Majzoub, a member of the group's policy-making Shura Council body and its leader in Sidon, 40 kilometers (24 miles) south of Beirut, was walking with his brother Nidal near the central square of this coastal city, when a parked car was detonated by remote control, security officials said.

Mahmoud Majzoub survived the explosion but died during surgery. His brother Nidal was instantly killed, said the security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. The explosion of a silver Mercedes parked at the roadside broke the windows of several nearby apartment buildings. Lebanese police and soldiers sealed off the area as dogs searched for additional bombs.

"I rushed to the balcony after hearing the blast only to see black smoke billowing from a car," said Omran Kaddoura, a 16-year-old resident. After running down six flights of stairs to the street, he "found the two bloodied men lying on the ground in front of the car. Within minutes an ambulance picked them up." Earlier before Mahmoud died, Islamic Jihad's representative in Lebanon, Abu Imad Rifai, blamed Israeli intelligence for the attack.

"This morning the Israeli Mossad detonated an explosive charge ... This is the second time Mahmoud is targeted and I believe it comes in the framework of Israeli escalation against the Palestinian people, particularly Islamic Jihad," Rifai told The Associated Press. Mahmoud, 41, his wife and infant son were wounded in an explosion in 1998 in Sidon when their booby-trapped car detonated. Islamic Jihad blamed Israel for the blast that also injured a passer-by.

Rifai confirmed that Nidal, 39, was a member of the group. Rifai rejected the possibility that other Palestinian or Lebanese groups were behind the attack. "No one has an interest in assassinating him except the Israeli Mossad." In Israel, military officials said they had heard about Friday's incident through media reports, but have no additional information.

Palestinians have blamed the assassinations of several militant leaders on Israel. The killing of Islamic Jihad chief Fathi Shekaki in Malta in 1995 has been widely attributed to Israel. But some of the killings of leading members of Palestinian groups were the result of inter-Palestinian feuds.

Islamic Jihad has continued to launch attacks on Israel since a February 2005 truce that the main militant group Hamas, which swept Palestinian legislative elections, has respected. It says the violence is a legitimate response to an Israeli crackdown on its members.

The virulently anti-Israel group backed by Iran and Syria, claimed responsibility for an attack in April in Tel Aviv, the deadliest Palestinian attack in 20 months. Islamic Jihad is led by Ramadan Shallah, a Palestinian from Gaza who now lives in exile in Syria. It considers the 1979 Iranian Revolution to be the beginning of a new era for the Muslim world and wants to turn all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into an Islamic state. It rejects compromise with Israel, reports the AP.

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