Witnesses and paramedics said a rocket fired from an Israeli aircraft on Wednesday struck the vehicle of a top member of the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of armed Palestinian groups, as it rounded a bend in the town of Rafah, killing him.

Israeli military sources said the target of the attack, Mahmud al-Arqan, had been working with members of the Islamic Jihad movement, which was behind Monday's shopping mall bombing in Netanya.

The sources added that al-Arqan had been responsible for a range of attacks, including sniper attacks and the firing of anti-tank missiles.

Palestinian sources confirmed the dead man's identity, saying he was a member of the Popular Resistance Committees.

The identity of those who had been wounded was not immediately known.

A wounded man is wheeled into
hospital after the Israeli air raid

Later, an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a target in the northern Gaza Strip early on Thursday morning, but it fell in an open area and caused no injury, witnesses said.

The Israeli army said the air force had attacked an access road to sites from which rockets had been launched to prevent further shooting from the area.

Wednesday's strike comes after Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered the resumption of assassinations in the wake of Monday's bombing in Netanya, which killed five Israelis and the Palestinian bomber, and following a series of rocket attacks on Israeli soil fired from Gaza.

Woman killed

In a separate incident on Wednesday, a woman was killed and several Palestinians were wounded in a gun battle between two rival clans in the Gaza Strip, paramedics and witnesses said.

The violence erupted after Palestinian security forces and armed faction leaders failed to resolve a dispute that led to the slayings of five Palestinians in fighting four days ago between the same clans in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun.

The Rafah death signals Israel's
resumption of assassinations

It underscored a problem of lawlessness in the coastal strip seen as a testing ground for Palestinian statehood after Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza in September, ending 38 years of military rule.

Witnesses said that the woman killed was from a different family from those involved in the fighting and that she was shot dead in the crossfire. Several other people were wounded, paramedics said.

A police official said Palestinian security forces deployed in the area after the shootings to restore calm. The heads of both feuding families later "agreed to stop these regrettable incidents", the official said.