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6 Wounded in Jenin Gunbattle - 2003-01-04

Five Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian were reported wounded in a gunfight early Saturday in the West Bank city of Jenin and Israeli troops arrested Palestinian militants elsewhere in the West Bank.

The Israeli army says troops were conducting a routine patrol in the Palestinian West Bank town when the gun battle erupted. A Palestinian man said the shooting started after troops entered his home at around 3:00 a.m. and were then attacked by Palestinian gunmen.

Jenin was the site of some of the worst clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the 27-month-long uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In April, an eight-day battle killed 23 Israeli soldiers and 56 Palestinians.

Israel also arrested two Palestinians overnight in separate operations in Nablus and Bethlehem.

The latest clash comes one day after the United States criticized Israel's policy of destroying homes used by suspected militants.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said such actions undermine international efforts to end unrest. He said the displacement of Palestinian families aggravates the region's humanitarian situation and erodes trust and confidence. Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration is disturbed by reports that recent home demolitions resulted in the deaths of two Palestinian civilians.

The rare U.S. rebuke came Friday, just hours after Israeli troops blew up the home of an Islamic militant leader in the West Bank. Separately, Palestinian witnesses say Israeli armored bulldozers flattened four Palestinian homes in southern Gaza.

The witnesses are quoted as saying the Gaza homes did not belong to militants. Israel described the structures as shelters used by gunmen to fire on Israeli troops and to hide explosives.

In June, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled military demolitions of such homes could continue without any right of appeal for their Palestinian owners.

Palestinians and human rights groups say such actions violate international law.