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Israel Seals Palestinian Territories - 2003-01-26

Israel has imposed a total closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of measures to boost security ahead of national elections Tuesday.

Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, announced the closure of the Palestinian territories would go into effect immediately and would not be lifted until after the January 28 elections.

He says the move is necessary because of the high number of warnings of possible Palestinian terror attacks.

The minister says the army will also impose curfews on any Palestinian town or village in the West Bank where there is a suspicion that the area might be used to launch attacks against Israelis.

Mr. Mofaz says that in addition to the closure, the army is sending an additional 1,500 soldiers to help the Israeli police maintain order and security on polling day.

The total number of security personnel to be on duty across the country during the elections is about 25,000.

Mr. Mofaz says efforts are being made by the army to supply weapons to citizens of Israel living in areas close to the West Bank.

The decision was announced just hours after Israeli forces completed a raid into Gaza City in which 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens more wounded in exchanges of gunfire.

Mr. Mofaz cited the firing Friday of 10 Kassam rockets by the militant Islamic group Hamas from the Gaza Strip into an Israeli town in the Negev area as justification for sending in the troops.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat claimed that the operation was a precursor to Israel's plan for what he called "full reoccupation of Gaza."