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2 Israeli Soldiers Killed in Gaza Strip - 2002-09-05

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in separate attacks by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militants ambushed Israeli soldiers Thursday in a series of operations in different parts of the Gaza Strip.

In the first attack, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops patrolling between two Jewish settlements, Dugit and Nissanit.

One officer was killed and another soldier wounded.

Just hours later, a soldier was killed and three others wounded when a bomb was detonated under a tank near the Kissufim Crossing, on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The blast set the tank on fire and blew off the turret, pinning down the soldiers inside for several hours, complicating rescue efforts.

The Israeli army described the attack, as a "sophisticated" two-pronged operation.

In the first phase, Palestinian militants fired anti-tank missiles at an army post, drawing out soldiers in search of the attackers. The militants then set off a huge bomb under their tank.

It was the third time this year that the Israeli-made Merkava 3 tank has been hit in such operations.

Once thought to be "invincible," two other Merkava tanks were hit by bombs in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, killing a total of six Israeli soldiers.

Israel officials have expressed fears that such sophisticated operations are the result of training Palestinians are being given by the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, with preparations underway for the start of the Jewish New Year, which begins Friday evening, Israel is on high alert to ward off a new wave of attacks by Palestinian groups.

Israeli security forces intercepted a car carrying 600 kilograms of explosives enroute to the northern city of Hadera.

Earlier, Israeli police found two bombs near the home of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.