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3 Israeli Soldiers, 2 Palestinian Fighters Killed in West Bank Clash - 2003-01-24

It was another night of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that left three Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians dead and several people injured.

Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians Friday morning north of the West Bank town of Nablus. One of those killed was a woman.

A military spokesman said four armed Palestinians threw grenades at an army checkpoint and then opened fire. He said the army returned fire. A third Palestinian gunman was captured and a fourth managed to escape. The army says they were members of the militant group, Hamas.

Just hours earlier, Palestinian gunmen ambushed and killed three Israeli soldiers who were on foot patrol near Hebron in the southern West Bank. Hamas claimed responsibility for the ambush.

Hours after that shooting incident, Israeli helicopter gunships fired numerous missiles at a Gaza City neighborhood, destroying at least one metal workshop and damaging a Christian chapel located inside a hospital compound.

The Israeli military says it attacked the workshop, which it says was used to make weapons. Two Palestinians were reported arrested, including a colonel in the Palestinian security service.

The military also destroyed the home of a Palestinian militant, who was killed more than a year ago in a clash with soldiers.

Also early Friday, Palestinian militants fired several short-range rockets from Gaza into Israel. One rocket hit the small Israeli town of Sderot. One woman was reported slightly injured by the attack.

The violence comes ahead of next week's Israeli elections. The latest public opinion polls say that incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud party will be the likely winners. Mr. Sharon favors tough military retaliation for Palestinian attacks while his Labor party rival Amram Mitzna backs talks with the Palestinians and an Israeli withdrawal from most of the occupied territories.