Three Palestinians and one Israeli soldier are dead after an exchange of gunfire in the West Bank.
A fierce gun battle between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinians broke out near the West Bank town of Nablus, close to the Palestinian village of Tell. There is an Israeli army post in the area.
Israeli military sources say a group of Palestinian gunmen ambushed the soldiers who were on patrol in a jeep. Ambulances and medical personnel had difficulty reaching the area because of the heavy exchange of gunfire.
Sources say the Palestinians were killed during the clash and the Israeli soldier died on the way to the hospital.
The fighting came shortly after a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said Israel is planning to withdraw its troops from another Palestinian-ruled area in the West Bank within the next few days. Mr. Gissin says the two sides are negotiating an agreement that could lead to troops withdrawing from either the West Bank city of Ramallah or Tulkarem by the end of this week.
"In places where the Palestinian Authority, local commanders, and local security forces assume responsibility for that given area where we were deployed, in those areas we will re-deploy our forces. We will move out of those areas and allow the Palestinians Authority to take control and to institute the cease-fire which they have accepted," he said.
Israeli forces pulled back from Qalqilya on Monday, and from Bethlehem and the adjacent town of Beit Jala last week. Israeli troops and tanks raided six Palestinian-controlled areas last month, after Palestinian gunmen assassinated an Israeli Cabinet minister.
Mr. Gissin says 15 Palestinian militants have been killed and 85 arrested since the incursions began.
The spokesman says that in the future, Israel will rely more on what he called "guerrilla" tactics than on large-scale military operations into Palestinian territory.
"In those cases, we will focus more on, I would say on a small-scale operation, what we call guerrilla warfare against terrorism. With more reliance on intelligence than on tanks, if you want, but still reserving the right of self-defense," he said.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says the Israeli withdrawals were "orchestrated for public relations purposes," and, in his words, "to score media points." Mr. Abed Rabbo says the cause of the current conflict is "Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territory" and what he calls "its belligerence towards the Palestinian people."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are scheduled to meet later this week to discuss the draft of an Israeli peace plan to present to the Palestinians.
Peace talks have been frozen because of the violence, but the two sides are under intense pressure from the international community to end more than 13 months of fighting.