A Canadian-born Israel Defense Forces soldier was killed Thursday morning during an operation near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The soldier, Sgt. Noam Adin Rechter-Levy, 20, was killed when his weapon discharged while he was scuffling with Palestinians in the town of Bir Zeit, a probe found.

His family was informed of his death. Rechter-Levy was born in Montreal and immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of 8.

The incident began around 3 A.M., when a clash broke out between a contingent of troops from the Kfir infantry brigade's Duchifat battalion and people in the Palestinian town.

At a certain point an officer and a soldier left the main force, apparently in a bid to flank the Palestinians. The pair subsequently encountered more Palestinians, with whom they began to scuffle.

Shortly afterward, a shot was heard and the soldier collapsed, critically wounded. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Troops apprehended three Palestinians whom they suspect of participating in the clash. A nine millimeter casing was recovered at the scene, but forensic tests showed he was killed from a 5.56-millimeter bullet which probably came from an IDF rifle.

The investigation is now centering on whether the Palestinians with whom Rechter-Levy scuffled pointed the barrel at him while the rifle was strapped to his body and as they were fighting.

Other troops arrested 16 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank in overnight operations.

The probe may also touch on the type of mission the soldiers were on - mapping out Palestinian towns for reconnaissance purposes. Some commanders view these entries into potentially-hostile territory as a means to keep troops alert and well-drilled during periods of relative calm. Army authorities say the raids help deter terrorists.

But the raids are source of inconvenience for Palestinians, especially when they include break-ins into residential homes in the middle of the night. Some in the intelligence community argue that the raids produce little valuable information and that they are a source of unnecessary friction with Palestinian security forces.

In October 2003 three Duchifat soldiers were killed in a nearby village, Ein Yabrud, during a reconnaissance patrol. A probe into the force's performance in the village revealed they had acted with complacency, violating protocol in a number of ways. The battalion's commander was relieved of his command following the probe.

Rechter-Levy was the first IDF casualty in the West Bank in 20 months. The last soldier to die there was Bentzi Henmann from the Paratrooper Brigade's reconnaissance commando unit, who died in a gunfight with wanted Palestinians in the refugee camp Ein Beit Ilmah near Nablus.

'Noam was loved by everybody'

"Noam was full of life and loved by everybody," Ma'ayan, the brother of Sgt. Noam Adin Rechter-Levy, who was killed in an IDF operation in the West Bank on Thursday, said. "The smile never fell from his face. A wide heart as his is rarely found."

"Noam possessed a sense of justice that was unique, he was a dedicated and loyal friend who was willing to lend a supporting shoulder and an attentive ear. He always sought happiness and joy and made the most out of every moment he shared with family and friends."

Noam, the fourth of five children, was born in Montreal in 1988. He added the name Rechter to his surname to pay homage to his grandmother, whose family perished in the Holocaust.

Noam immigrated to Israel at age 8 with his family, which then settled in the town of Mitzpeh Natufa in the Lower Galilee. He attended the elementary school in Kibbutz Lavi and he completed his secondary school studies in the Yeshiva High School in Tiberias.

Ma'ayan said his brother was a very active child who was quick to adopt to his surroundings and who was curious by nature. "Even before he learned how to speak, he knew how to ride a bicycle without training wheels," he said. "Noam was an excellent athlete and an exceptional basketball player. He established a basketball club for the children in the town, and they loved him, admired him, and saw him as a role model."

Ma'ayan said his brother enlisted in the Duhifat Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, where he underwent training as a medic. Last month, he was promoted to the position of battalion medic. "During an operation a few weeks ago he performed CPR on a terrorist who was seriously injured out of the respect for human life."