NABLUS, West Bank – Israeli troops entered the Palestinian city of Jenin and its battle-scarred refugee camp before dawn Friday in a search for militants who eluded capture during heavy fighting last month, the army said.
In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers early Friday while he tried to enter the Jewish settlement of Dugit, the Israeli military said. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attempted infiltration.
In Jenin, exchanges of fire erupted shortly after Israeli forces reached the city and the adjacent refugee camp around 3:30 a.m., witnesses said. But the army said its forces did not come under heavy fire and intended to withdraw as soon as they arrested the suspects they sought.
In the refugee camp, soldiers surrounded the home of Jamal Abu Alhija, the local leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas. Soldiers ordered family members to come out but Alhija was not among them, said Alhija's son, Asam, 14.
He said that after relatives said they did not know where Alhija was, soldiers set the empty house on fire, burning every room.
In the city of Jenin, soldiers surrounded a building on a commercial street and were looking for at least one person they believed to be inside, but did not immediately take any action, witnesses said.
Several Israeli tanks also entered the West Bank city of Nablus, but troops made no arrests and left after several hours, Palestinian witnesses said.
Last week, Israel ended a six-week military offensive aimed at militants in the Palestinian cities and towns of the West Bank. The operation was launched March 29 following a series of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel.
However, Israeli forces have continued to make brief, smaller-scale incursions into the West Bank to arrest or kill suspected militants.
Last month, the Jenin refugee camp was the scene of the heaviest fighting of the Israeli offensive. Israel lost 23 soldiers and more than 50 Palestinians were killed in the April 3-11 battle.
Israel also detained hundreds of young men in the camp for interrogation, though most have been released. Israeli armored bulldozers flattened concrete apartment blocks where militants were holed up in the congested camp, home to about 15,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian officials accused Israeli troops of killing hundreds of people, including many civilians, during the fighting. However, Israel called the claim a wild exaggeration, and human rights groups said they have found no evidence of a massacre.
Israel refused to let a U.N. team look into what happened.
After a Palestinian suicide bombing inside Israel last week, Israeli forces prepared to enter the Gaza Strip to track down militants. However, Israel stopped short of launching the incursion.
The Haaretz newspaper on Thursday quoted Israel's deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, as saying it was "only a matter of time" until the Israeli army moves into Gaza.