A Palestinian policeman has died of his wounds in the West Bank town of Jenin after being injured in a shootout between armed Palestinians and police, according to a hospital source.

The policeman, Zyad Bsur, 24, was shot in the gun battle which erupted after unidentified armed men targeted a deputy of the mainstream Fatah party, Djamal Shatti, as he was driving through town, witnesses said. 

Police sent reinforcements and a pitched battle broke out between dozens of policemen and armed men. 

The seriously wounded Bsur was evacuated to a city hospital, where he later died.

The motive for the shooting was not immediately clear but security sources said it appeared to be linked to a dispute between police and a resistance fighter from Jenin refugee camp.

Absorbing fighters

Earlier, Palestinian officials said the Palestinian Authority had worked out a plan to give jobs in the security forces to hundreds of armed men in the West Bank city of Nablus.

It would be the biggest move yet to absorb fighters from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, but the officials gave no immediate timetable for taking away the fighters' personal weapons.

Hundreds of armed men are to be
given security forces jobs

Abbas is under pressure from Israel to disarm fighters as a condition for resuming peace moves and faces calls from Palestinians to curb growing lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, he needs to tread carefully to avoid internal strife given the strength of the armed factions battling Israel since an uprising erupted in 2000.

The deal to bring in the fighters was sealed by Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia in Nablus on Wednesday - during a visit that was marred by Palestinian fighters' gunfire.

Al-Aqsa fighters confirmed they had agreed to the plan and said some of their forces would also take civilian jobs. The deal will include those in Nablus and nearby Palestinian refugee camps.

Samir Huleilah, chief of staff for the Palestinian cabinet, put the number of those involved in the hundreds.

"All have signed," he said. "This will be the test case. This is the first comprehensive agreement."

Next step

Huleilah said the Palestinian Authority hoped to expand the Nablus programme across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Gunfire greeted a visit by Ahmad
Qureia to Nablus on Wednesday

Smaller schemes have been implemented in Jericho and Tulkarim, where resistance fighters pledged non-violence and agreed not to carry weapons in the streets. But not as many took jobs.

Huleilah said those in Nablus would enter the security services shortly but had no details of when they would hand over personal weapons. He said dealing with arms was the "next step" and the guns could be bought by the Palestinian Authority.

A senior Israeli official did not comment directly on what he called an internal Palestinian matter, but said "if they do take the steps necessary to disarm those militants that is fine ... our only objection is the fact they are not doing anything".

Israel has resumed an assassination policy against Islamic
Jihad fighters, officials said on Wednesday, in a sign of how
far a truce with Palestinians has deteriorated.