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Israel Raids 4 Palestinian Bank Branches - 2004-02-25

Israeli forces raided four Palestinian bank branches Wednesday, seizing millions of dollars during a hunt for militant groups' money. Israeli troops sealed off the four Arab-owned banks in the West Bank city of Ramallah and imposed a curfew on the area.

An aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said the raid was an "unjustified provocation" that would force a Palestinian reaction.

Israel said the raids were intended to freeze accounts that contain money linked to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah as well as those of individual militants. Israel said investigators were also looking for evidence that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was involved in funding terrorist activities.

Dozens of stone-throwing Palestinians clashed with the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Soldiers denied Palestinian claims that they also used live ammunition. Local medical officials said more than a dozen Palestinians were injured, at least three critically.

Israeli troops also raided the office of an Islamic charity in the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Meanwhile, at The Hague, World Court hearings concluded Wednesday on the legality of the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. Israel boycotted the proceedings, calling them an "international circus."

Israel says the barrier is meant to stop Palestinian suicide attacks. Palestinians call it a land grab and an attempt to impose a boundary on a future Palestinian state. A ruling is not expected for several months, and it will not be binding.

In a separate development, Israel is considering shortening the barrier by about 80 kilometers to ease travel limitations on Palestinians.