JERUSALEM -- Mayor Zafer-al-Masri, appointed by Israel to run the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, was shot and killed Sunday, Israel radio reported.
Two separate Palestinian splinter groups claimed responsibility for the killing.
Israel radio said Masri, 43, was shot several times in the heart as he left his car to enter the town's municipal offices. He was taken to Rashadiye Hospital and died on the operating table, Israel army Radio said.
The Israeli army immediately imposed a curfew on Nablus, the largest West Bank town Israel took from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres condemned the assassination and vowed to continue appointing Arab mayors in the occupied territories.
'His murder is a blow to the inhabitants of the territories and to all those who look forward to progress in reaching stability and understanding,' Peres was quoted as telling a weekly Cabinet meeting.
Peres also said the killing will not stop Israel from helping 'the inhabitants (of the West Bank and Gaza) to administer their own affairs,' Cabinet secretary Yossi Beilin said.
A man who said he represented the Abu Nidal Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the murder in a telephone call to a French news agency.
The caller, who spoke in Arabic and said he was calling from Beirut, said the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a Palestinian splinter group led by Abu Nidal, was responsible for the attack.
Another splinter group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, issued a statement in Damascus saying it imposed a 'death sentence' on Masri 'for dealing with the Zionist-Jordanian reactionary plan aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause.'
The statement said his killing was 'a clear, explicit warning' to any 'traitor.'
In December, Abu Nidal's group claimed responsibilityfor the killing of Aziz Shehahdeh, a prominent West Bank lawyer who advocated a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians.
In Tunis, the Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the shooting and said it was 'another link in the chain of crimes committed in the service of plans for Zionist expansion.'
Masri was the scion of a prominent Palestinian family. His cousin, Taher-al-Masri, is Jordan's foreign minister and his brother, Hikmat al Masri, a former speaker of the Jordanian parliament.
Last November, Masri was the first Arab to replace Israeli administrators as mayor of a West Bank town.
Masri's appointment was part of an Israeli attempt to grant the 800,000 Palestinians on the West Bank a limited degree of self-rule.
'It's a tragic event which will have horrible ramifications for the people of the West Bank,' said Elias Freij, mayor of Bethlehem, and one of the few remaining elected town leaders on the West Bank.
Israel dismissed many Palestinian mayors in 1982 following a round of Palestinian protests against the occupation. Among those dismissed was Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka'a who lost his two legs in a 1980 car bomb.
An underground movement of radical Jewish settlers on the West Bank was convicted for the maiming and for simultaneous attacks on two other West Bank mayors.
Israeli-appointed administrators have since run the municipalities of towns whose mayors were dismissed.
Despite his close Jordanian connections, Masri was reported to have opposed Jordanian King Hussein's statement earlier this month in which he announced an end to efforts to coordinate Middle East peace moves with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Israeli officials said they hoped to expand the degree of self-rule on the West Bank following the collapse of the Jordanian-PLO peace effort, but cautioned that they may be targets of retaliation by radical Palestinian groups.
'Most of them would like to live after nomination,' a senior Israeli official said recently.
Masri told reporters after his appointment that he had not discussed his nomination with either Jordan or the PLO.