JERUSALEM - Israeli forces raided a West Bank city and a Gaza refugee camp on Thursday, setting off battles that left four Palestinian gunmen and a soldier dead.
The raids came despite a lull in Palestinian bombing and shooting attacks against Israelis, underlining Israel's policy of hunting down terrorists regardless of the ebbs and flows of violence.
In an interview on Channel 2 TV for the Jewish New Year, which begins this evening, Sharon said Israel will keep targeting terrorists. "We are hitting, and we will continue to hit, those who strike out at us," he said.
In the past, such raids have provoked Palestinian reprisals, stoking the fires of confrontation as the bloody conflict nears the end of its third year.
On another subject, Sharon told TV interviewers a prisoner swap with the Lebanese Hezbollah has not been completed, but he indicated prisoners held in Europe might be involved.
"We have good bargaining chips, in which the Iranians are interested, and in which Hezbollah is very, very, very interested," Sharon said. "They are in a European country, and this is part of the deal.... They carried out terror attacks." He did not elaborate, and Israeli officials would not provide details.
In the clashes Thursday, Israeli forces backed by tanks and jeeps entered the West Bank city of Hebron before daybreak and surrounded a one-story building in a field where Diab Shweiki, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron, and his deputy, Abdel Rahim Talahmeh, were hiding, the army and Shweiki's relatives said.
A fierce gunbattle followed, and when the fighting died down, army doctors entered the building and found the bodies of the two wanted men.
Also Thursday, Israeli forces moved into the Boureij refugee camp in central Gaza and surrounded a house. The military said the goal was to arrest a local Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader, Jawad Shahin.
Palestinians opened fire, threw grenades and fired an antitank missile, killing a soldier and wounding six others, one critically, the military said. Two Palestinian gunmen were killed in the exchange, Palestinians said. Shahin escaped.
A 3-year-old girl, Lena Issa, collapsed during the fighting and died. Her father, Hassan Issa, 38, said the girl began shaking when the fighting began and lost consciousness, but because the house was 700 yards from the warring fighters, he could not get out to call an ambulance.
The girl was taken to a hospital after the soldiers left. Doctors said she died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Israeli military sources expressed regret at her death and said it was reasonable the father feared leaving his house during the fierce battle.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said even if an ambulance had been called, it might not have been able to enter because of the fighting. They blamed the terrorists for operating in civilian areas.
Though Israeli raids in Palestinian areas take place almost nightly, the terrorist groups have not carried out a large-scale attack since twin suicide bombings in Israel on Sept. 9 killed 15 people.
However, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said Wednesday that his group would not consider a truce as long as such operations continue, implying that Hamas would retaliate.