They said 58-year-old Ahmad Khalil was shot in the head on Saturday by a group of four settlers who drove past as he was walking near Deir Nidham village, 10km northwest of Ram Allah.

A second Palestinian was wounded in the shooting but his condition was not immediately clear, they said.

Other Palestinian security officials, however, said there was some confusion over the source of the shooting as Israeli soldiers had been operating in the area at the time.

Israeli military sources confirmed that troops in the same area had fired towards two Palestinians who were suspected of planting a roadside bomb and had identified a hit. They did not know the condition of the wounded man.

The death brings the overall toll since the September 2000 outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, to 4851, according to an AFP count.

Minister returns

Earlier on Saturday, powerful Palestinian cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan returned to the Gaza Strip after a month's treatment in a Belgrade hospital for a back complaint, officials told AFP.

Cabinet minister Mohammed
Dahlan returns from Belgrade

The civil affairs minister had been absent during a crucial period in Palestinian politics following Israel's landmark withdrawal from Gaza.

He had been in charge of efforts to coordinate the pullout,
which was completed on 12 September, and his absence since then had fuelled speculation about his future.

Dahlan told AFP last week that he would stop working 18-hour days when he returned but was not about to quit frontline politics.

"I will make it less of a priority, but I am not going to quit politics," he said. "This is in my blood."


Elsewhere, Israeli occupation soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians in a confrontation in the West Bank, sources say.

Palestinian security officials said that one unarmed Palestinian was found dead in Tulkarim after a stone-throwing protest against Israeli forces and that Israel later informed them that
its troops had recovered another body, not yet identified.

The shooting is the latest in a series of fatal incidents in the past week threatening to unravel an eight-month ceasefire and dash hopes that Israel's pullout from Gaza last month could lead to a resumption of peace talks.
Witnesses said Israeli occupation soldiers on Friday opened fire on protesters who threw stones at an army Jeep, east of Tulkarim in the northern West Bank, killing an 18-year-old youth. Palestinian paramedics said the youth died immediately of his wounds.
But an Israeli military spokesman said that soldiers shot at armed men who fired first at the troops and damaged a military vehicle and that two armed Palestinians were hit but their condition was unclear. 
In a separate incident on Friday, a Palestinian police officer was critically wounded in Tulkarim as officers tried to break up a brawl between two Palestinian men on a street outside a cafe.

Neither of the Palestinians involved in the brawl was believed to belong to the resistance groups fighting Israel.