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Israeli Troops Enter Gaza City - 2003-02-17

Israeli troops, backed by tanks, entered Gaza City early Monday and blew up the house of a leading Palestinian militant. Reports say at least two Palestinians were killed and four others wounded in the gun battle that followed. Larry James reports from Jerusalem on the latest incident, which follows Sunday violence that left nine Palestinians dead.

Israel Radio says the troops came under fire while demolishing the house and returned fire. Officials at a Palestinian hospital say a doctor was among the wounded that they treated.

Palestinian witnesses say several dozen Israeli tanks, backed by helicopter gun ships, demolished the home of Ahmed Ghandour, a man said to have links with the bomb maker believed responsible for an attack on a tank that killed three Israeli soldiers last June.

Israel has been blowing up the houses of suspected militants for several months, as a deterrent measure. Palestinians and human rights groups call the plan collective punishment and a violation of international law. Israel says the demolitions are intended to discourage militants from carrying out attacks.

Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz vowed to strike back hard at Hamas, after the group claimed responsibility for a landmine which killed the four-member crew of an Israeli tank in northern Gaza on Saturday.

Hours later, six Hamas militants were killed in an explosion near Gaza City, while inspecting a small remote-control glider which the group said it obtained for use in new "operations".

Hamas officials said they believed Israel had booby-trapped the device and vowed to avenge the deaths.

Last week, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he would appoint a prime minister as part of efforts to reform the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials say violence that began 29 months ago must stop, before negotiations can resume.