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Israel Launches Raids on Ramallah in West Bank - 2004-02-25

Israeli security forces launched a raid into the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday in an apparent attempt to stem the flow of money to suspected Palestinian militants. At least 17 Palestinians were reported injured in clashes with troops during the raid.

Troops moved into Ramallah, closing off streets, surrounding bank buildings and imposing a curfew on the center of the city.

Dozens of stone-throwing Palestinians clashed with the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Soldiers deny claims that they also used live ammunition.

Security officials say the aim of the raid was to get information on accounts and money transfers to militant groups or individuals.

In particular, security sources say they were looking for accounts linked to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrilla group.

Palestinian militants have confirmed that they have received cash payments from Hezbollah and other sources from abroad. Israeli officials say some of that money comes in through so-called donations and charities, and is used as to finance and reward deadly attacks against Israelis.

In a separate development, Israel looks set to shorten the length of the controversial barrier it is building in and around the West Bank. Officials are quoted as saying the barrier will be shortened by about 80 kilometers to ease travel limitations on Palestinians.

Israel has been building a winding combination of fences, walls and trenches for almost two years. Officials say the barrier is needed to keep out potential terrorists. Palestinians and other critics say its aim is really to grab as much Palestinian land as possible and make sure a viable Palestinian state never becomes reality.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has just ended three days of hearings over the legality of the barrier. A ruling is not expected for several months, and it will not be binding.