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Israel Seals Off West Bank, Gaza Strip Ahead of Jewish Holiday - 2003-03-16

Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and deployed thousands of security forces across the country. The measures were imposed before a Jewish holiday to guard against possible Palestinian terror attacks.

With the Jewish holiday of Purim drawing near, Israel imposed a full closure on the Palestinian territories. No Palestinians are to be allowed into Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, until the order has been lifted. The curfew is expected to remain in effect until after festivities end late Wednesday.

Purim begins late Monday in most of the country, and the following evening in Jerusalem. During the holiday period, thousands of police, soldiers and volunteer security guards are being deployed across Israel.

The holiday is celebrated in a carnival atmosphere with children and adults dressing up in costumes. Police have called for Israelis to be on guard against the possibility that some Palestinians might come wearing disguises with the intention of carrying out a terror attack.

The security measures have also been imposed as tensions rise in the region because of the possibility U.S. lead forces may soon launch a military strike against Iraq.

Saturday, thousands of Palestinians took part in anti-war demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Hebron. Both are considered strongholds of the militant Islamic group Hamas, which frequently carries out suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel. Holding up pictures of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, some protesters burned American and Israeli flags, and declared their solidarity with Iraq.