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Israeli Troops Kill 2  Palestinians Near Security Fence - 2004-01-24

Israeli officials say their troops shot and killed two Palestinians Saturday near the security fence that divides Israel and the Gaza Strip. The officials say the two had entered a zone that Israel has declared off limits to Palestinians.

Palestinian officials identified the two men as members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Both were unarmed, but the Israeli army says they were carrying binoculars and cell phones, possible signs that they were planning to carry out an attack.

Israel has banned any unauthorized entry to the immediate border zone of Gaza where the two men were shot.

Israeli military officials say they had received warnings that Palestinians were planning what they called a terrorist operation and that soldiers were continuing searches of the area.

Hundreds of Palestinians, some carrying weapons, took part in the funeral processions for the two men.

Their bodies were wrapped in Palestinian flags. One mourner, addressing the crowd outside a mosque, promised to avenge their deaths.

It was not the first time that Palestinians approaching the area close to the border fence have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

In a similar case on Thursday, Israeli troops shot to death an 11-year-old Palestinian boy and wounded two other youths after they were spotted close to the Gaza fence.

Also on Saturday in the southern Gaza Strip, an explosive device was thrown and two anti-tank missiles fired at Israeli troops near Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Arafat said in an interview with a British newspaper Saturday that, "time is running out to reach a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel."

He told British daily The Guardian that the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Israel's building of a security barrier in the territory will prevent the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian State.