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Palestinians say 9 dead in Gaza clashes

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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- At least nine Palestinians were killed and 20 injured Monday during Israeli operations in Gaza, Palestinian security and medical sources said.

The incidents came a day after Israel Defense Forces called "regrettable" an incident in which an Israeli bulldozer ran over and killed an American peace activist at Rafah in southern Gaza.

Seven of the dead were killed when Israeli forces entered the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza early Monday, Palestinian sources said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz cites Palestinian sources as saying a four-year-old girl, two teenagers and at least two gunmen were among the dead.

The Israel Defense Forces said one of those killed in Nuseirat was senior Islamic Jihad activist Muhammad Saafin.

An IDF statement said Saafin has "perpetrated shooting attacks, recruited terrorist cells and launched mortars toward Israeli communities and IDF posts in the Gaza Strip."

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad operates out of Gaza and carries out attacks in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. The group has carried out military operations against Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians. It introduced suicide bombings to Israel in 1992.

The IDF said the soldiers came under fire as they approached Saafin's house, in an attempt to arrest him. They returned fire, killing the suspect.

Two other Islamic Jihad activists were arrested inside the house after the gunfight, the IDF said. The house was then destroyed.

Israeli forces also arrested two Palestinians in Nuseirat, identified by the IDF as arms producers and arm dealers.

Witnesses reported about 40 Israeli tanks, accompanied by bulldozers and two Apache helicopters, in the refugee camp, which they said were targeting houses. The helicopters were shooting, they said.

The Israeli forces were telling people to evacuate one area of the refugee camp, sources said. The forces also leveled a four-story residence, sources said.

Two Palestinian security officers were killed during a separate incursion in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, the sources said. Israeli forces entered the town Monday morning and asked all men between the ages of 15 and 35 to assemble in one of the schools, according to Palestinian sources.

Meanwhile, the IDF was enforcing a full closure of the West Bank and Gaza effective midnight March 16, the IDF Web site said.

The IDF cited "warnings of terrorist attacks on the Purim holiday," which begins Monday at sundown and is observed for two days in Jerusalem and one day elsewhere in Israel. Purim celebrates the deliverance of Persian Jews from an extermination plot.

American protester killed by bulldozer

Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Washington, was killed in Rafah, Gaza, on Sunday when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer. She had been protesting its use in the destruction of Palestinian houses .

Corrie had been working since January with the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement protesting Israeli actions in the occupied territories, said Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the group.

Arraf said the bulldozer driver ignored Corrie's pleas to stop, saying after he ran over her, he "then reversed and ran over her again."

An Israeli military source called Corrie's death "a very regrettable incident," but also said, "this is a group of protesters who are acting very irresponsibly. They are putting everyone in danger ... by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone."

Arraf said the activists only use non-violent means. "We definitely don't believe that this was an accident," she said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Lou Fintor urged the IDF to conduct "an immediate and full investigation into the circumstances of this death."

The United States also repeated its call for the IDF to take all possible measures to avoid harm to civilians, Fintor said.

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