JERUSALEM – Israeli forces backed by tanks and combat helicopters raided the West Bank town of Jenin on Tuesday, prompting a gun battle that killed a Palestinian woman in her home, Palestinian witnesses and military officials said.
Israeli forces entered Jenin in search for gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. The sound of shooting echoed throughout the town.
A 23-year-old Palestinian woman was killed in her home in the fighting, Palestinian hospital officials said. The circumstances of her death were not immediately known.
An Agence France Presse photographer was shot in the leg, the officials said.
Israel often operates in Palestinian population centers, going house to house in a search for fugitives and arms.
Earlier Tuesday, the army lifted a five-day closure it had clamped on the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Jewish holiday of Purim (search). Palestinian workers were permitted to enter Israel and the Erez Industrial Zone (search) in the Gaza Strip, the army said.
The army often prevents Palestinians from entering Israel during Jewish holidays. Palestinian suicide bombers have attacked public places during holidays several times in the past.
Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that tensions between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and army chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon (search) had risen due to a disagreement over the Israeli leader's plan to withdraw from Gaza unilaterally.
Sharon and Yaalon both denied the reports. However, top military officials appear to have misgivings about the plan, which could entail Israel evacuating most of its settlements in Gaza.
Violence has increased in Gaza since Sharon made his ideas public last month, with both sides trying to portray a withdrawal as a victory.
Mohammed Deif, the chief Hamas bombmaker who tops Israel's wanted list, said Hamas played a key role in forcing Israel to consider leaving Gaza. Deif, who survived several Israeli assassination attempts, had never before given an interview.
"The Israeli collapse is near, with God's support. It's closer than they imagine. We will witness the victory with our own eyes," Deif said in an audio download from the Hamas Web site.
"Their criminal Sharon, who always refused any peaceful solutions, saying they are treason against Israel, the one who came to eliminate the resistance ... he is the same Sharon who has now decided on a total evacuation and full withdrawal from Gaza," Deif said.
Meanwhile, Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, is to meet Arafat on Wednesday to discuss Sharon's proposed withdrawal, said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Arafat.
"It's an important visit because it comes at a time when many Israeli plans aim only to run away from implementing the road map," Abu Rdeneh said, referring to a U.S.-backed peace plan that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday to discuss the proposed withdrawal. Israel wants Egypt to bolster its security presence along the Egypt-Gaza border after an Israeli withdrawal to prevent arms smuggling.
Israel controls the border, which is used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons into the coastal strip.