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More Palestinians Killed in Israeli Raids - 2003-03-27

Palestinian security sources say two policemen were killed and at least 16 other people injured during an Israeli military raid on a Palestinian town in the northern Gaza Strip. While the world's attention has been fixed on the war in Iraq, the low level conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has continued.

Witnesses said Israeli troops and tanks entered the town of Beit Hanoun in the early morning hours Thursday. Israel says its soldiers came in search of Palestinian militants accused of firing Kassam rockets at Israeli border towns. The military says its troops came under fire in Beit Hanoun and a gun battle ensued. At one point an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a Palestinian police post.

Israeli troops arrested three Palestinian militants wanted by Israel in Beit Hanoun before ending their operation. The army says it arrested another 13 suspected militants in the West Bank overnight.

Earlier this month, Israeli troops increased their security sweeps and attacks in the West Bank and especially in Gaza. In one raid on a Gaza refugee camp 10 days ago, 11 Palestinians were killed, including a small girl.

Palestinians feared that as the world's attention fixed on the war against Iraq, little attention would be paid to what was happening in the Palestinian territories. They expressed concern that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would use this as an opportunity to crack down even harder on the Palestinians.

Before the war began, Israel imposed a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, preventing Palestinians from crossing into Israel. The territories have been relatively quiet. Even so, the low grade war between Israelis and Palestinians goes on. The Israeli military has continued daily and nightly sweeps of Palestinian towns and villages, arresting dozens of suspected militants. And, in one clash Tuesday in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, four Palestinians were killed, including a 10-year-old girl.

Palestinians have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful demonstrations every day to show support for Iraq. On Thursday, hundreds of people marched in Gaza waving Iraqi and Palestinian flags and called for an end to the American-led war. About 200 Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank city of Hebron, while several thousand were reported to have taken to the streets in Tulkarem and Tubas, also to show their support for Iraq and Saddam Hussein.