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Two Palestinians Killed in Firefight with Israeli Forces - 2002-07-22

Two Palestinian gunmen were killed Monday in a firefight with Israeli forces, near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military officials say the two were killed when soldiers engaged a group of armed Palestinians in a brief firefight near the Gush Katif settlement. Two Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded during the exchange of fire.

The incident came a day after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel was prepared to ease sanctions against Palestinians, if attacks against Israelis stop. He said Israeli soldiers will leave areas where Palestinians show they can maintain security and control terror.

Israeli forces occupy all but one of the eight major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. Palestinians officials say the Israeli troop presence prevents their own security forces from doing their job.

Foreign Minister Peres said Israeli and Palestinian officials will meet again this week to discuss security and economic issues.

In another development Sunday, Israel backed away from its threat to deport family members of Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

The reversal was made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the advice of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein. Justice Minister Meir Sheetreet says each Palestinian attack and suicide-bombing case will be judged individually and that deportations will be limited to relatives who knew about an attack in advance and failed to report or prevent it.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Palestinian militant group said Sunday it would strike at the families of Israeli officials, if families of any Palestinian militants are deported.

The sweeping deportation threat had drawn strong criticism from the United States, European Union, United Nations and Arab nations, which said collective punishment of relatives is neither acceptable nor legal.