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The new Palestinian interior minister named a renowned militant as his top aide yesterday, announcing also the formation of a new security branch to be comprised of militants as part of an ongoing power struggle between the new Hamas-led cabinet and moderate Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The minister, Saeed Seyam, issued a decree appointing Jamal Abu Samhadana, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, as director general of the police forces in the Interior Ministry. Abu Samhadana is considered a wanted militant whom Israel tried to target in December 2004.

Samhadana's group is responsible for many of the Qassam rockets launched at Israel in recent weeks.

According to U.S. and Israeli intelligence, Abu Samhadana was linked to the October 2003 attack on a U.S. convoy in the Gaza Strip in which three members of a security detail were killed. Khaled Abu Hilal, the interior ministry spokesman, said Seyam was also forming a new security branch that would be answerable only to him to bring law and order to the Palestinian streets.

"This force is going to include the elite of our sons from the freedom fighters and the holy warriors and the best men we have," he said. "It's going to include members of all the resistance branches."

Soon after the Hamas-led Cabinet was sworn in late last month, Abbas appointed a longtime ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the three security services that fall under the interior ministry. It was unclear whether Samhadana or Abu Shbak would retain ultimate control of the security forces, though any dispute would be resolved in the Abbas-headed National Security Council.