JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian university teacher linked to the political wing of Islamic Jihad was killed yesterday in a car bomb blast in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians immediately said that the man, Hani Abed, 31, was a victim of an Israeli plan to assassinate Palestinian radicals in retaliation for the Tel Aviv bus bombing last month.
"Whether we did it or not I don't know," said Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi. "All I can say is, in the past, anyone who messed with Israel was taking a big risk."
But there also were fears that the assassination signaled the beginning of a cycle of political murders in the struggle between the mainstream Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization and groups opposed to the peace process.
Mr. Abed, who worked part time in a press office linked to Islamic Jihad, had been arrested without charges by the Palestinian police last May and was held for about two weeks before being released.
Police questioned him about his activities in Islamic Jihad, a rival organization that often joins with Hamas in opposing the peace process. They also questioned him about an attack May 20 in the Gaza Strip that killed two Israeli soldiers.
Before his release, his family had complained bitterly of the arrest, and Islamic Jihad had warned the police of potential consequences.
Mr. Abed was killed in the town of Khan Yunis as he started his car at the College of Science and Technology, where he taught chemistry.
According to accounts, a bomb exploded either as he opened his car door or started the ignition. He died later at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis.
Married, with four children, Mr. Abed worked after classes at a press office in Gaza known to be associated with Islamic Jihad. Family members and associates at the press office said his affiliation was only with the political wing of the organization, and not the "military" side that carries out sporadic attacks on Israelis.
"Rabin is starting to implement his threats by killing media men, not the real doers," said an Islamic Jihad official, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
After the attack Oct. 19 on a bus in Tel Aviv by a suicide bomber who killed 22, Mr. Rabin had angrily insisted that Israel must retaliate without being restricted by laws.
After a closed Cabinet session the next day, Mr. Rabin and other officials said plans had been made, but they refused to elaborate. The London Observer reported that the Cabinet had agreed to "eliminate" leaders of the radical Palestinian groups. The report was widely circulated in Israel and was never fully denied by the government.
"That meeting was secret, and it was intended to be secret," Mr. Dromi, the government spokesman, said in reply to the report. "We never make a statement about anything that we do or don't do."
In other developments, according to wire services:
* Two Hamas leaders said yesterday that they were ready to open a dialogue with Israel, but Mr. Rabin rejected the suggestion of talks.
Sheik Jamil Hamami of Jerusalem and Sheik Hussein Abu Kwaik of Ramallah were responding to earlier remarks by Israeli Police Minister Moshe Shahal, who said dialogue with Islamic militants might help combat attacks on Israeli targets.
Sheik Hamami, a Hamas political leader who runs clinics and schools in Jerusalem, said he wanted to end bloodshed on both sides. "We can make an agreement under international supervision," he said in an interview.
But Mr. Rabin rejected talks with Hamas, saying that the group is "the enemy of peace. The only way to deal with it is to wage a war of annihilation against it."
* The Israeli army ordered Jewish settlers to tear down a stone monument honoring the gunman who killed 29 Muslims on Feb. 25 at a Hebron mosque. The settlers said they would fight the order.
Dr. Baruch Goldstein's grave has turned into a pilgrimage site for Jewish extremists since the massacre.
Zvi Katzover, mayor of the Kiryat Arba settlement, said he had no authority to stop construction, arguing that the memorial was a private initiative by Goldstein's widow, Miriam.
The anti-Arab Kach movement to which Goldstein belonged said it would post guards at the grave to block demolition. The Israeli government banned the group after the massacre.
At the grave, stonecutters were busy yesterday fitting the last stones into the 30-foot octagon. Also planned was a marble slab to cover the grave, and dual eternal flames.
* Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert made a rare visit to the city's Arab neighborhoods, threatening to demolish homes built without permits but also promising urban renewal.
Arab residents complain that the lengthy permit process makes it nearly impossible for them to build homes. And they say the areas where they live, with open sewers and few city amenities, are largely neglected when compared to the western, mostly Jewish half of the city.
Mr. Olmert, on his first visit since taking office a year ago, promised to invest in buildings and services in the Arab sectors of the city "just like in the Jewish neighborhoods."
But he also said: "I came here to give you my policy, and my policy is that anything not built with a permit will be demolished."