GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli forces backed by tanks and helicopters raided the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, in one of the largest operations in 30 months of fighting, killing at least five Palestinians.
One Israeli soldier was killed in the assault, which began late Saturday and ended Sunday. The army destroyed two tunnels used for smuggling weapons under the Gaza-Egypt border and blew up the house of Mahmoud Abu Shamala, a leader in the militant Hamas group, the military said.
In response, Palestinian militants fired three Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot. One landed on an apartment building, wounding one woman, local official Pinchas Yosef Cohen said.
In a separate clash Sunday near the West Bank town of Qalqilya, troops shot and killed Abderrahman Abed, 15, who witnesses said was with a group throwing stones and firebombs at troops.
The violence came as Palestinian leaders tried to find a compromise that would allow Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas to win parliamentary approval for his Cabinet by a Wednesday deadline. If leaders fail to meet the deadline, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will likely appoint another senior member of Fatah Party, his political movement.
Abbas and Arafat held separate talks Sunday with members of Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian legislature, Abbas aides said.
Abbas stormed out of a meeting with Arafat Saturday after they disagreed over the makeup of the Cabinet. Abbas and Arafat have been at odds over the role of former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, tapped by Abbas as minister of state for internal affairs. The minister would have some control over security matters.
Security is key to a U.S.-backed peace plan toward ending violence and establishing a Palestinian state, which is to be unveiled as soon as Abbas, who is widely known as Abu Mazen, takes office.
But on Sunday, some observers said Abbas might fail to form a government.
"There is a very big chance ... that Abu Mazen will not succeed," Palestinian legislator Soufian Abu Zaida said.
An official present at Saturday's meeting said Abbas threatened to resign unless his Cabinet picks were approved. His resignation would be a major setback for efforts to end 30 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The United States and Israel, which have been boycotting Arafat, have expressed willingness to work with Abbas, who has called the violent conflict a mistake.
Despite the political maneuvering, however, 11 Palestinians and an Israeli were killed over the weekend. Since fighting erupted 30 months ago, 2,269 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 759 on the Israeli side.
In the incursion into the crowded Rafah camp, a 15-year-old boy, three men in their 20s and a policeman were killed, Palestinian doctors said. One soldier, a military cameraman was killed by a Palestinian sniper, the army said.
Israeli forces penetrated Rafah from three directions, using more than 35 tanks and armored personnel carriers, bulldozers and jeeps. Five attack helicopters circled above, flashing spotlights above the camp, where about 60,000 people live.
Rafah has been a flashpoint of tensions. Recently, foreign peace activists set up protest camps to try to block military incursions. One American peace activist has been killed and a British demonstrator critically wounded in the confrontations.
The operation in the refugee camp came hours after clashes in the West Bank city of Nablus in which APTN cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh was killed and 17 other Palestinians were wounded.
On Sunday, hundreds of Palestinians rallied to protest Darwazeh's killing in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah. Many carried Darwazeh's picture, wore black scarves over their mouths to symbolize censorship and chanted "Justice and truth!"
Doctors said Darwazeh, 43, died of a bullet wound to the head. Palestinian witnesses said he was shot by an Israeli soldier, while the military said there were exchanges of gunfire in the area and that it was not clear who was responsible for his death.
Darwazeh was filming clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Nablus. Darwazeh had worked for APTN for two years and leaves a wife and five children.
The army said it was in Nablus looking for a would-be female suicide bomber and her recruiter, whom troops arrested.
The local Foreign Press Association issued a statement calling for a full investigation into Darwazeh's killing. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a local group, alleged the military was targeting journalists "in an attempt to silence the press and prevent public reporting of Israeli military actions."