BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Israeli troops shot to death two Palestinian boys Saturday, pushing ahead with a broad military operation aimed at preventing militants from firing rockets at Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip.
Nine-year-old Ehab Shatat was killed by machine gun fire, apparently from a tank-mounted gun, while standing near his home in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, Palestinian hospital and security officials said.
The army said it fired warning shots at a Palestinian mob that approached soldiers in a threatening manner, but it was not aware anyone was hit.
Hours later, troops killed a 16-year-old boy, who Palestinian hospital and security officials said apparently was shot by a machine gun. The army said troops shot and killed a teenager who was throwing cement blocks at soldiers.
The army raided Beit Hanoun on Monday after militants killed two Israelis, including a 3-year-old boy. The deaths were the first in a rocket attack since fighting erupted nearly four years ago. Six Palestinians have been killed in Beit Hanoun since the raid started.
Troops have isolated Beit Hanoun from the rest of Gaza and razed agricultural land in an attempt to prevent militants from taking cover in orchards when firing rockets at Israel.
Although the army has not restricted the movement of residents in the town center, farmers cannot access their land and all entrances to the town have been closed. Troops also took over three factories in the industrial zone.
Despite the military action, Palestinians have managed to fire barrages nearly every day, wounding several people. Three rockets were fired while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was visiting the family of the boy who was killed in Sderot.
Militants also fired a rocket into Israel on Saturday. It landed in an open field just inside Israel, injuring no one, the army said.
Palestinians have been firing the highly inaccurate, homemade rockets from Gaza for more than two years, but had not killed anyone until Monday. The army and Palestinian militant groups said the rockets had been upgraded to make them deadlier.
The new rockets could make it more difficult for Sharon to implement a plan to evacuate all Jewish settlements on the Gaza Strip and four on the West Bank by the end of September 2005.
Hard-liners who oppose Sharon's plan say removing settlements and a military presence from Gaza would put towns along the border at greater risk. Egypt has pledged to help train Palestinian security forces to ensure a smooth handover.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed a 20-year-old Palestinian in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.
Mahmoud Alahwani _ whose younger brother was killed by troops 10 days ago _ was throwing stones at troops when they opened fire on the demonstrators, according to Palestinian sources.
An army spokesman said Alahwani was armed, and that troops killed him he had the chance to open fire. Earlier, the spokesman said Alahwani had been setting off bombs near the troops.
A 26-year-old Palestinian civilian wounded in May during an Israeli operation in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza died of wounds Saturday, Palestinian hospital officials said.