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3 Palestinians Killed in Gaza - 2003-12-29

Israeli soldiers have shot and killed three Palestinians following a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. The shootings follow a week of bloody violence in Gaza in which at least nine other Palestinians were killed in clashes between troops and militants.

The Israeli army says its soldiers opened fire on a group of Palestinians who had been seen firing mortars at the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

An army spokesman says the mortar rounds had been intended to hit a wedding party in the settlement but missed their target. Israeli troops responded by shooting at the source of the mortar fire.

Early on Monday, soldiers searching the area found the bodies of three Palestinians.

The fighting came after a week of clashes in the Gaza Strip between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers searching for weapons smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border.

The Israeli army claimed it had found one such tunnel under a building in the Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing to face mounting opposition to its building of a security barrier in and around the West Bank.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has filed a petition in the country's Supreme Court that would allow Palestinians easier access through the gates of the barrier.

The first section of the barrier, stretching more than 60 kilometers, was completed in June. Part of the barrier has cut into the West Bank, isolating several Palestinian villages.

The human rights group says its petition is aimed at allowing residents of these villages to move freely to their farming lands and water supplies and reach medical facilities in nearby Palestinian towns.

The petition follows several days of demonstrations against the barrier.

Israeli troops are under investigation for an incident on Friday, in which they opened fire on a demonstration, wounding two of the protesters.