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3 Palestinian Gunmen Killed by Israeli Troops - 2004-04-12

Israeli troops have shot and killed three Palestinian gunmen they say were trying to launch an attack against a Jewish settlement Monday in the Gaza Strip. The attack came as residents celebrated the last day of the Jewish Passover.

The Israeli army says a group of Palestinian gunmen was seen approaching the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the central Gaza Strip shortly before dawn on Monday.

Soldiers protecting the community intercepted the attackers near a set of greenhouses and a fierce gun-battle ensued.

The Israelis said the Palestinian gunmen also hurled hand grenades at the troops before being killed. Other Palestinians outside the settlement fired mortar shells at the community during the fighting.

Soldiers herded the settlement's 400 inhabitants into bomb shelters, allowing them to re-emerge only hours later after the area had been secured against more attacks.

Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip also fired two homemade rockets at another Jewish settlement.

Netzarim and other Jewish settlements in Gaza have often been the target of such attacks, since a Palestinian uprising against Israel began more than three years go.

These communities also face an uncertain future after Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, announced a unilateral plan to withdraw troops from Gaza and dismantle all Jewish settlements in the territory.

On Friday, dozens of Jewish settlers from Gaza demonstrated against the plan outside Mr. Sharon's private ranch in the southern Negev area of Israel.

In a separate development on Monday, Israeli troops raided two towns in the West Bank in an operation to arrest Palestinian fugitives suspected of planning violent attacks.