JERUSALEM Palestinian gunmen burst into Gaza City's main hospital twice Monday and killed two convicted informers for Israel in their beds after they were wounded when a prison guard hurled two grenades into their cell, medical and security officials said.
The killings heightened concerns about spreading lawlessness in the Palestinian areas, which have been plagued in recent weeks by violent unrest triggered by factional power struggles and demands for reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
The shootings in the supposedly protected hospital in the heart of Gaza City highlighted the inability of the Palestinian police to control armed militants and impose law and order.
Monday's violence began when a prison guard hurled two hand grenades into a cell in Gaza's Central Prison that held inmates convicted of serving as informers for the Israeli security services. Seven prisoners were injured, and one later died of his wounds.
At Shifa Hospital in downtown Gaza City, where the wounded were treated, gunmen entered the room of one of the injured prisoners and fatally shot him in the head, police and medical staff said.
The prisoner was identified as Mahmoud Al-Sharif, convicted in 1999 of giving the Israelis information that led to the killing of his cousin, a leader of Islamic Jihad, four years earlier.
Palestinian militants have killed scores of suspected informers, and the Palestinian Authority has executed two in the past four years of violent conflict with Israel.
The gunmen apparently slipped into the hospital as a crowd, including mourners with assault rifles, gathered outside the building for the funeral of three militants killed overnight by Israeli troops as they tried to attack a Jewish settlement. Unarmed police are usually stationed near the hospital, but entry to the building is not tightly controlled.
A few hours later, gunmen struck at the hospital again.
About 20 militants pulled up at the hospital in four vehicles and blocked the street as four gunmen went into the intensive care unit and fatally shot another wounded prisoner in the head and chest, witnesses said.
The prisoner was identified as Walid Hamdiyeh, 42, convicted in 2002 of giving information that helped the Israeli security forces track and kill five Hamas members, including Imad Akel, a commander of the group's armed wing, who was killed in 1993.
The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the grenade attack and the killing of Hamdiyeh. "The Qassam Brigades announces that the time of punishing collaborators has come," it said in a statement.
Palestinian militants have killed scores of suspected informers, and the Palestinian Authority has executed two in the past four years of violent conflict with Israel. Israeli-targeted killings of [terrorists -- editor] during the conflict has heightened hostility among Palestinians to informers said to be guiding the Israelis.
As the violence unfolded in Gaza, Palestinian leaders met in the West Bank town of Ramallah to discuss ways to stop the slide into chaos. Saeb Erakat, a Cabinet minister, said Yasser Arafat gathered his security chiefs and directed them to enforce law and order.
The Palestinian Cabinet decided to replace more than 20 police commanders, and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said police officers would from now on patrol prominently in the streets.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, where gunmen briefly abducted three foreign church workers over the weekend, shots were fired at the home of Ghassan Shaka, the former mayor who is close to Arafat, Palestinians said. No one was hurt.