Palestinian witnesses and medics said two of his bodyguards were also killed in the attack.

A senior Israeli security source confirmed Abu Shanab was the target of the attack.

It occurred after Israel decided to resume military strikes against resistance groups, following a Hamas bombing on Thursday which killed 20 Israelis.

Earlier, Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinian schoolboys during an incursion into Tulkaram refugee camp in occupied West Bank.

Palestinian witnesses said 15-year-old Said Ghanim and his brother 16-year-old Islam Ghanim were killed, and the troops took Islam’s body "for identification purposes".

The occupation forces wounded at least five other  Palestinians, including an 11-year-old boy, in Tulkaram. At least 12 Israeli tanks and jeeps have re-invaded the West Bank city and its refugee camp.

Tanks and armoured vehicles also made incursions into the West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin early on Thursday. Explosions were heard in Jenin, but there were no reports of casualties.

Israeli troops demolished two homes near Jenin belonging to two Islamic Jihad activists who had detonated explosives, killing themselves and Israelis.

'Series of decisions'

The Israelis are all set to strike at
Palestinians towns

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet authorised attacks against Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Thursday, according to Israeli army radio. Strikes would not focus on the Palestinian Authority.

"A series of decisions" were taken during the three-hour meeting, but there were no further details, according to a statement from the premier's office.

Israeli tanks have taken up positions around major Palestinian  towns, while helicopters hovered low over populated areas.

Some Israeli media speculated the Jewish state would resume its policy of targeted killings of Palestinian resistance leaders, a strategy criticised by the international community.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian executive issued a statement saying it would back all decisions carried out by the Palestinian Authority, but stopped short of mentioning a crackdown on resistance groups.

In the statement that followed a four-hour meeting early on Thursday, the leadership  has said there needs to be support for government decisions.