Israeli troops shot and killed four Palestinians in a raid on Monday in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops backed by tanks and helicopters entered the camp before dawn Monday and were immediately met with a hail of gunfire from Palestinian militants. Two Palestinians, one from Hamas and the other from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, were killed when the Israelis returned fire.
The fighting continued when the soldiers moved to a home where they tried to arrest Yasser Abu Ayish, a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Witnesses said Mr. Abu Ayish and his brother engaged the Israelis in a pitched battle that ended only after the Palestinians ran out of ammunition. The Islamic Jihad leader was a triple amputee. He lost both legs and one arm a year ago when an explosive device he was working on blew up prematurely.
The Israeli military confirmed three Palestinian deaths and said one of its troops had received what were described as light injuries.
Israeli officials described Monday's raid as a pre-emptive search and arrest operation. On Sunday Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that leaders of violent Islamic groups are targets for assassination. His comments came after the spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said Hamas is making an all-out effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
Defense Minister Mofaz said, the statements of Yassin just emphasize the need to strike the heads of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Israel has targeted militant leaders in the past, and last month Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said Sheikh Yassin should be eliminated. He later withdrew that statement saying that no decision has yet been made on whether to go after the militant leader.
On Sunday, Israeli forces carried out a rare raid in the West Bank town of Jericho which left one wanted Palestinian dead following a clash with gunmen.
The Israeli army also entered Bethlehem over the weekend to arrest suspects wanted in connection with a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem last Thursday that claimed 11 lives.