GAZA CITY — Israeli soldiers battled with Palestinian militants Thursday in the Gaza Strip, killing a 14-year-old boy and bulldozing houses during a daylong raid, Palestinian officials said.
The Israeli army said troops entered Rafah, 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 Authority President Yasser Arafat condemned the raid and a helicopter strike Wednesday that killed three Hamas militants in a car. The intensified attacks came ahead of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from almost all of the Gaza Strip.
Late Thursday, the Israeli military imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel until at least Tuesday, after 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 has said he will uproot Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip 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.
The plan, which calls for creation of a Palestinian state next year, requires Israel to tear down dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank and halt construction in long-established settlements, a requirement it has failed to meet.
The peace plan also requires Palestinians to dismantle violent groups, which they have not done.