Israeli soldiers have killed at least six Palestinians in clashes throughout the West Bank. More than 20 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the military action, which began in the early morning hours Thursday and continued throughout the day.

There may have been a brief lull in the violence over Christmas, but that was shattered during the night as Israeli troops swept through towns and cities across the West Bank in search of Palestinian militants.

Clashes, fatalities, injuries and arrests were reported throughout the area. By day's end strict curfews were being enforced in major West Bank towns and cities.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed senior Islamic Jihad militant Hamza Abu Roub in the northern West Bank town of Qabatiya and then demolished his house. Islamic Jihad immediately vowed revenge for the Abu Roub killing.

In Ramallah, soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians, including one described as a militant linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Another Fatah militant was reported shot in the town of Tulkarem.

In Nablus, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian gunman during a firefight and witnesses said the soldiers also shot and killed an unarmed teenager.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli action, which he described as an escalation that would only invite retaliation.

The Christmas holidays had brought a bit of relief from the ongoing violence. Israel had lifted its curfew on the town of Bethlehem and redeployed its troops to the outskirts of the city to allow for Christmas festivities in the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The move offered some relief to Bethlehem residents who were able to move about freely at least for a few days. By day's end Thursday the curfew was back on and Israeli troops were back in the center of the city. They fired teargas on shoppers downtown and used loudspeakers to order everyone back indoors.