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Israeli Security Forces on High Alert as Purim Holiday Begins - 2004-03-05

Israel's security forces are on high alert to guard against possible attacks by Palestinian militants over the Jewish holiday of Purim. Israel has also imposed a total closure on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip until at least next Tuesday.

Israeli security officials say they have received more than 50 alerts of possible attacks, but without specific information on when or where they might take place.

Security and police presence is being beefed up over the next several days over the Jewish holiday of Purim, when many people dress up in masks and costumes. That, security officials say, makes it easier for potential attackers to mingle with the crowds.

Purim celebrates a passage in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, which tells of the survival of the Jews during their exile in ancient Persia, despite a decree that they should all be killed.

The holiday is celebrated in most of Israel from sundown Saturday through Sunday, but in Jerusalem and a few other cities, the celebration takes place from Sunday night through Monday.

Israel routinely imposes a strict closure on the Palestinian areas over Jewish holidays, a time of heightened fears of possible attacks.

This means that thousands of Palestinians with work permits, are not able to cross into Israel to their jobs.

In a separate development, police have arrested a third suspect in an ultra-nationalist Jewish terror case. The latest suspect, 22-year Yevgeny Grossman, denies that he was involved in a bombing campaign against Arabs.

Police already have in custody father and son Meir and Eliran Golan of Haifa. Eliran Golan has confessed that over the past three years he prepared and planted bombs near Arab targets and that he plotted to assassinate Israeli Arab members of Israel's parliament.

One such bomb was placed under the car of parliament member Issam Makhoul several months ago. The bomb went off when Mr. Makhoul's wife started the car, but she was not hurt in the incident. Eliran Golan said he carried out the attacks for ideological reasons.

Meir Golan has said he knew nothing of his son's activities, even though he lived in the family home, where police found an explosives laboratory and dozens of bombs ready for use.(