GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops looking for suspected Palestinian militants made raids into the Gaza Strip and West Bank Thursday, killing six Palestinians.
The Israeli military said soldiers thought two men who were picking vegetables were planting a bomb on the Israel-Gaza border and fired at them, killing one. Later, the military admitted they had no weapons. Palestinians said the two were harvesting crops.
Early Thursday, troops searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border raided a Gaza refugee camp, killing four armed Palestinians in exchanges of fire and demolishing five houses.
The Rafah camp has been a flashpoint of fighting in the past 30 months, with troops destroying dozens of homes allegedly used for covering tunnels or as firing positions.
The sixth death was in the West Bank city of Nablus when Israeli troops shot and killed a local Hamas leader, the army said.
Khaled Rayyan, 28, was hiding in a relative's house with his wife and child when soldiers broke down the door, said his wife, Salam. Rayyan was killed when he tried to attack the troops with a pistol, she said.
Also Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister-designate, met with political leaders in the Gaza Strip to discuss the formation of his new Cabinet, expected later this month.
Abbas also met recently with leaders of Islamic militant groups in Gaza, in an effort to persuade them to end, at least for a period, attacks against Israelis.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appointed Abbas last month, giving in to international pressure to relinquish some of his powers. Israel and the United States are boycotting Arafat, charging that he has not done enough to stop attacks against Israelis.
Abbas has spoken out against the violent aspects of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Israelis hope he can lead to a resumption of peace talks, but most Palestinians blame Israel for the continuing violence.
In Brussels, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that efforts to end Palestinian-Israeli violence would not be delayed by the war in Iraq.
He said a peace plan by the "Quartet" of mediators -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- would be presented when Abbas takes office.
"We are anxious to present it to the new Palestinian prime minister," Powell told reporters.
Powell was in Brussels for a fast-paced series of meetings with his NATO and European Union counterparts at the NATO headquarters. The European allies pushed Powell to move ahead immediately with plans to publish the plan for peace, the so-called road map for peace.
Thursday was the the highest toll of Palestinian dead since the beginning of the U.S.-led Iraq campaign.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarem and an adjacent refugee camp, nearly 1,000 men and teenage boys who had been questioned on Wednesday during an Israeli military sweep were kept from returning to their homes Thursday. The army said they were being kept out so soldiers could search homes and question other residents.
As the Palestinians waited, Israeli forces demolished the home of a Palestinian suicide bomber.
In the Arab section of Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israel demolished eight Palestinian houses and planned to demolish three more, on grounds the owners lacked permits. The houses were under construction or near completion.
Palestinians say Israel is stingy with building permits, using them to limit Arab population growth in the eastern sector of Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital for their state. Israel denies the charge and says it is applying zoning restrictions evenly.
Majed Amira, 25, said he spent all his savings to build the house destroyed Thursday. "The police came suddenly without any previous warnings, and the bulldozer started demolishing the house," he said.