Israeli security forces have shot dead five Palestinians, including two leaders of a militia group. The shootings took place as fresh violence spread across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fighting broke out Thursday as the Israeli army pressed on with a widespread crackdown on Palestinian militants in the territories. The operation is known as Operation Hot Winter.

The troops are conducting house-to-house searches for weapons, as well as Palestinians wanted by Israel.

The raids follow warnings that some Palestinians are planning to launch major terrorist attacks inside the Jewish state.

In the West Bank town of Tulkarem, an Israeli undercover unit shot dead two armed Palestinians. The shooting started after the two suspects attempted to escape in a car.

One of those killed was Fayez Jaber, the 32-year-old local leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Mr. Jaber was a close associate of the militia's founder, Raed Karmi, who was assassinated by Israeli security forces last year for his alleged involvement in a series of terror attacks against Israelis.

During the Tulkarem raid, Israeli soldiers also arrested 10 other suspects.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians, as they were attempting to fire Kassam rockets from the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

The killings followed an Israeli raid earlier Thursday into the West Bank city of Hebron. Troops arrested at least five members of Fatah in Hebron, after conducting a series of house-to-house searches.

Israeli soldiers also closed Palestinian radio and television stations, as part of a crackdown on suspected militants.

The Israeli army said it had carried out the operation in response to a series of ambushes in Hebron.

Since the middle of November, 18 Israelis have been killed in the city, including three soldiers who were shot to death last week by Palestinian snipers.