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5 Palestinians Killed as Iraeli Forces Raid Gaza Town - 2004-04-21

Israeli troops shot and killed at least five Palestinians in a clash in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Palestinian witnesses said some 25 tanks rolled into Beit Lahia before dawn as Israeli troops began a house-to-house search for homemade rockets. The operation was conducted in a housing project built for Palestinian security officers.

It was the second incursion in Gaza in as many days. Five Palestinians were killed in clashes when Israeli troops moved into Beit Hanun and Beit Lahia Tuesday afternoon. The soldiers opened fire after a crowd of Palestinians and began throwing stones, firebombs, grenades and other explosive devices at them.

Five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the clash.

The Israeli incursions follow a series of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli settlements in Gaza and Israeli towns in the western Negev region. Militants are reported to have fired some 15 rockets at Israeli targets this week, wounding at least seven Israelis.

Meanwhile, a report in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz says Israel is considering closing the industrial zone located at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The newspaper quotes unnamed senior Israeli military officers as saying the area is too hard to secure.

One security officer was killed and three others were injured in a suicide bombing at the crossing last Saturday. Five other Israeli security officers have been killed in suicide bombings in the same location since January.

Ha'aretz quoted the officer as saying that Israel may have no choice but to close the industrial zone despite the damage that such a move would do to the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians.

The Erez industrial zone employs some 4,000 Palestinians. It is one of the few places where thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis can be found together. It has also been relatively easy for Palestinian suicide bombers to penetrate the crowds that gather daily to cross into Israel from Gaza.

Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said during a visit to Erez on Tuesday that the industrial zone, which was closed following the bombing last weekend, will not be allowed to reopen until suitable procedures are in place to protect the soldiers.