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Israeli Military Operations Kill At Least 9 Palestinians in Gaza Strip - 2003-03-17

At least nine Palestinians were reported killed and around 20 injured during Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip Monday. The violence comes just a day after an American peace activist was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while it was demolishing a Palestinian house near the Gaza-Egypt border.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops and armored vehicles entered the Nusseirat refugee camp around four am local time. They said the raid sparked fierce gun battles between soldiers and armed Palestinians that lasted several hours. Witnesses in the camp talked of "bullets raining from the sky" during the operation. Among those reported killed were a small child and two teenagers.

Israeli tanks were also reported in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. Witnesses there said two Palestinian men were killed and hundreds of people were rounded up for questioning. Israeli troops were also reported conducting house to house searches for Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Jenin.

The Israeli army has routinely raided refugee camps and Palestinian towns in a search for militants.

The incursion into Nusseirat came just hours after an army bulldozer killed American college student, Rachel Corrie. Ms Cory was trying to block the bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian house when it ran over her and crushed her.

The army has called it a regrettable accident and the United States is demanding an immediate investigation. Washington is also urging Israel to take all steps to avoid harming civilians during military operations.

Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks on Israelis.

In other developments, Israel has imposed a full closure on both the West Bank and Gaza Strip and deployed thousands of security forces around the country ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The holiday, which is celebrated in a carnival atmosphere, begins late Monday in most of the country and late Tuesday here in Jerusalem. Police have warned Israelis to be on guard against possible attacks by Palestinians who may dress up as Purim revelers.