Four Palestinians and three Israeli occupation soldiers were wounded on the second day of a massive army sweep for resistance fighters in Jenin, sources on both sides said.

 

Ground troops surrounded a house in Jenin's eastern Wad Ezzedin neighbourhood and exchanged heavy rounds of fire with Palestinians inside, French news agency AFP reported.

 

Army sources said three Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, one of them seriously.

 

Residents said the soldiers were evacuated by ambulance and that army helicopters then hovered over the house.

 

They said the men trapped inside the house were members of Islamic Jihad's military branch and of one of the armed offshoots of Yasir Arafat's Fatah party, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

 

Clashes

 

Meanwhile, in another eastern Jenin neighbourhood, Har Assarqia, a 23-year-old man, was critically injured in the head during clashes between rock-throwing youths and Israeli troops.

 

An eight-year-old Palestinian girl was also hurt in the same incident, Palestinian medical sources said.

 

Palestinian children flee Israeli tanks

Earlier on Friday two Palestinians were injured, one in the centre of town and the other in its refugee camps when young Palestinians hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at army tanks and jeeps.

 

A 12-year-old boy was seriously wounded by Israeli fire in his abdomen and a 38-year-old bystander was moderately injured while standing on the front porch of his house, Palestinian medics said.

 

An army spokesman said the troops were "in continuous fighting against the terrorist infrastructure in the city of Jenin. We came under Palestinian gunfire in eastern Jenin and responded."

 

The army kept its makeshift positions in residential buildings it had seized on Thursday.

 

Bombers' homes demolished

 

Sources on both sides said troops also dynamited the family house of a human bomber on the outskirts of the refugee camp.

 

Shadi Toubasi's two-story house was blown up after its 11 inhabitants were evacuated.

 

Toubasi had killed 15 people and himself in a March 2002 attack in a restaurant in Haifa, in northern Israel.

 

Another house was destroyed in Rantis, north of Ram Allah, the army said.

 

Since August 2002, the army has destroyed more than 250 houses of Palestinian fighters it said were involved in anti-Israeli attacks.

The house had belonged to the family of Hamas member Ihab Abu Salim, who blew himself up in a deadly attack at a military base near Tel Aviv 10 days ago.

 

An army statement said that destroying resistance fighters' houses "sends a message to suicide bombers and their partners that anyone who participated in terrorist activities will pay a price for their actions."

 

Destructive policy

 

Since August 2002, the army has destroyed more than 250 houses of Palestinian fighters it said were involved in anti-Israeli attacks.

 

Rights groups criticise the sanction, saying it amounts to collective punishment.

 

And its deterrent power is increasingly being questioned in Israel in light of claims by Palestinian resistance groups that they have no problem recruiting would-be human bombers.

 

More than 2000 Palestinian houses built without permits from the occupying authority or said to represent security threats have also been destroyed by the army since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in late September 2000, according to the British-based rights group Amnesty International.