GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli soldiers battled with Palestinian militants in Gaza on Thursday, killing a 14-year-old boy and bulldozing houses during a daylong raid, Palestinian officials said.
The Israeli army said troops entered Rafah (search), a frequent battleground in the conflict, in search of tunnels used by Palestinian militants to smuggle weapons from Egypt. Soldiers were met with gunfire and grenades, the army said.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) condemned the raid and a Wednesday helicopter strike on a car that killed three Hamas militants. The intensified attacks came ahead of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from almost all of the Gaza Strip.
"They say they want to leave Gaza, but before leaving they are increasing their massacres against our people," Arafat said.
Late Thursday, the Israeli military imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel until at least Tuesday, following the Jewish festival of Purim. Such closures, routine during Jewish holidays, idle thousands of Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) has said he would leave Gaza and parts of the West Bank and impose a boundary on the Palestinians if efforts to implement the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan remain stalled.
Under the plan, which calls for creating a Palestinian state next year, Israel is required to tear down dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank and halt construction in veteran settlements, a requirement it has failed to meet.
The Supreme Court on Thursday delayed evacuation of six unauthorized outposts for another 10 days to allow for an additional appeal, a court spokesman said.
The settlers had been given a Thursday evening deadline to evacuate their homes before the military would remove them, a Defense Ministry official said.
The Peace Now (search) monitoring group reported last month that instead of removing the outposts, the government allowed three new ones to be established, 12 existing outposts to be connected to the electricity system and eight to receive paved roads.
The road map also requires Palestinians to dismantle violent groups, which they have not done.
During the clashes with militants in Rafah, a regular site of Israeli incursions, soldiers fired near a school, fatally shooting a 14-year-old boy in the chest, hospital officials said. Two other students were hurt in that shooting, leaving a total of nine wounded in the fighting, officials said.
Israeli bulldozers destroyed five houses and damaged seven others, Palestinian security officials said. The army also damaged the water and electricity networks and flattened large areas of agricultural land, the security officials said.
Tanks prevented medical teams from leaving the local clinic, residents said.
The Israeli military said it had no information on the boy's death, but had coordinated the movement of ambulances and had only one complaint of a damaged water pipe.
Just before the raid, Awani Kaloub, a well-known member of the Popular Resistance Committee — an umbrella organization of militant groups responsible for attacks on Israeli tanks — was killed in an explosion in his Rafah house.
Palestinian security officials said he was apparently preparing a bomb that exploded prematurely. Seven of his relatives in the house were injured, they said.
As the raid continued in Rafah on Thursday afternoon, two men near Gaza City, about 20 miles away, were seriously wounded when an Israeli tank opened fire on them as they returned from their jobs on a nearby farm, hospital officials said. The army said it had no information on the incident.
In the West Bank, an Israeli force swept into the village of Meitalun near the town of Jenin and arrested a senior militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Palestinian witnesses said, identifying him as Raed Khaliliya.
The army said he was armed with a pistol.
Also Thursday, two Arab citizens of Israel were indicted for establishing ties with Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas and delivering information on how to make weapons to Palestinian militants in the West Bank.
The information, smuggled by brothers Mohammed and Majed Knaaneh, was intended for a senior militant in the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), an armed group linked to Arafat's Fatah faction, according to a statement from Sharon's office.