Sixteen Palestinians died during a battle in the southern Gaza village of Khouza, including 14 armed men and a regional commander of the Palestinian security forces. The Israeli Army said the village was a “center of terrorist activity.”
Meanwhile, Israeli forces used helicopter gunships and tanks against several other cities throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
An Israeli missile attack killed five Palestinians at a police base north of Gaza City, including a rescue worker in an ambulance, doctors said. In the West Bank, 11 Palestinians were killed in gun battles, with the heaviest fighting reported in the Tulkarem refugee camp and the town of Bethlehem.
Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli troops prevented ambulances from reaching the Tulkarem camp, resulting in several deaths. The Israeli Army has countered that Palestinians often use ambulances to smuggle weapons and gunmen.
Among those killed were two Palestinian boys: a 9-year-old struck in his home in the Tulkarem camp and an 11-year-old on the street in the Jenin refugee camp, the Associated Press reports. An Israeli soldier was also killed in the fighting in Tulkarem camp, the army said.
Also on Friday, five Israeli teenagers were killed at a high school when a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on a study hall and threw grenades into a trailer serving as a dormitory. Twenty teens were wounded in the attack, which took place in a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
The assailant threw six grenades and emptied nine ammunition clips before he was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian radio reported that the militant groups Hamas was responsible for the attack.
The violence comes a day after President Bush announced he was sending his Mideast envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region to press for peace. Palestinian officials accused Israel of sending troops into the refugee camps in an effort to sabotage Zinni’s mission.
Israel’s Cabinet is scheduled to convene Sunday to vote on formal approval for two U.S.-backed plans: a plan aimed at reaching a cease-fire proposed by CIA Director George Tenet, and guidelines for a longer-term peace process developed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
Israeli leaders have said they support the proposals, but the Cabinet has never formally approved them.
Violence over the past week has claimed the lives of at least 104 Palestinians and 35 Israelis, making it the deadliest since the recent conflict began in September 2000.