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3 Palestinians Killed by Israeli Security Forces - 2003-01-15

Three Palestinians have been killed in Israeli security sweeps in the West Bank overnight and the military demolished the homes of four Palestinians convicted of carrying out a series of attacks against Israelis.

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed near the West Bank town of Tulkarem in clashes with Israeli troops. A third fatality was reported in the village of Kabatiya in the northern West Bank as soldiers searched for two Palestinian militants. The dead man was described by witnesses as an innocent bystander who was mentally ill.

The military says more than 20 suspected militants were arrested in overnight security sweeps.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli troops poured concrete to seal off the homes of three Palestinians convicted of involvement in a series of bombings that killed 35 people, including an attack at Jerusalem's Hebrew University last July, which killed seven people. The home of a fourth bomber was later blown up.

Israel routinely demolishes the homes of suicide bombers and suspected militants in what the army describes as a necessary deterrent. It was the first time, however, that the army destroyed homes in East Jerusalem for security reasons. Arabs living in that part of the city carry Israeli identity cards and have much greater freedom of movement than do Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The demolition policy is widely criticized by human rights groups as collective punishment.

Israel has also closed down the Islamic University and the Polytechnic Institute in the West Bank city of Hebron. The army says the two schools were being used by extremists to plan attacks. Clashes briefly erupted between stone throwing students and troops who fired back with rubber-coated bullets.

The latest violence comes just a few weeks before general elections in Israel. Both sides have accused each other of ratcheting up the violence ahead of the vote.