NUSEIRAT - The main suspect in a recent bomb attack against the Palestinian prime minister in the Gaza Strip was killed in an arrest raid on Thursday that also left two members of the Hamas security forces dead.
One of the suspect's alleged accomplices was also killed in the raid after Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, launched a manhunt.
The interior ministry in the Gaza Strip announced the deaths. The two suspects were earlier said to have been arrested, but the ministry issued a statement later saying they had died from their wounds.
A third suspect was under arrest.
The members of the security forces were named as Hammad Abu Swerah and Ziad al-Howajri, with the interior ministry saying they "died while carrying out their national duty in a security operation this morning."
A clash with an exchange of fire had erupted earlier in the day in Nuseirat, south of Gaza City, a day after Hamas named Anas Abu Koussa, born in 1993, as the lead suspect.
Dozens of new checkpoints had been erected throughout the Palestinian enclave and armed security forces were searching cars, an AFP correspondent said.
Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah was unhurt by the roadside bomb that struck his convoy on March 13, in what Palestinian officials have called an assassination attempt as he entered Gaza on a rare visit.
Palestinian Authority intelligence chief Majid Faraj, who was accompanying Hamdallah, also escaped injury.
The roadside bomb, believed to have weighed around 15 kilogrammes (33 pounds), exploded a few hundred metres (yards) from the border with Israel, shortly after Hamdallah's convoy entered the territory.
A second bomb failed to explode, officials said.
- Failed reconciliation -
Hamas did not give a possible motive for the attack on Hamdallah, head of government in president Mahmud Abbas's Palestinian Authority.
On Wednesday, a Hamas security source said investigators had arrested and were questioning three people, including two members of the PA-run intelligence services.
Another security source said he believed radical Salafist Muslims had planted the bomb, which lightly wounded six people.
On Monday, Abbas accused Hamas of being behind the blast and said he would take new measures in response, without specifying details.
Abbas has previously taken a series of measures, including reducing electricity payments for Gaza's two million residents, in what analysts said was an attempt to punish Hamas.
Hamas and the West Bank-based PA have been bitter rivals for a decade since the Islamists seized control of Gaza.
The bombing appears to have brought to an end hopes for an already floundering reconciliation deal signed in October between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party, which dominates the PA.
While Hamas did hand over control of Gaza's borders to the PA, it maintains full control of the rest of the territory, with its police force and armed wing still operating throughout.
The future of that armed wing has proved one of the largest sticking points in implementing the reconciliation agreement.
Previous attempts at reconciliation have failed.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States.
Many hoped reconciliation could ease worsening humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave, which suffers from electricity shortages and a lack of infrastructure, including clean water.