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Israel Raids Gaza Refugee Camps, Killing 14 Palestinians - 2004-03-07

Israeli troops raided two refugee camps in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, killing at least 14 Palestinians and wounding more than 80 others in fierce gun-battles with militants. The raids came one day after armed Palestinians launched attacks against Israeli military targets in Gaza.

Israeli forces backed by tanks and armored vehicles swept into the Bureij and Nusseirat camps in the central Gaza Strip, early Sunday.

Palestinian residents say fierce fighting erupted between the troops and Palestinian gunmen as the soldiers began house-to-house searches for wanted militants.

Israeli army officials say that the Palestinian gunmen had opened fire on the troops and the soldiers fired back.

The Israeli army also said that they had come under attack from Palestinians who fired anti-tank missiles and detonated explosives.

The army officials say the operation is aimed at finding and arresting Palestinian militants suspected of attacking Israeli convoys and firing mortars at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The raids followed the killing of six Palestinians on Saturday in a failed attempt by Palestinian militants to kill Israeli soldiers at the Erez crossing point into the Gaza Strip.

Three armed Palestinian groups claimed joint responsibility for the attacks.

The organizations which say they masterminded the operation are Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

The groups have been responsible for suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis since the start of a Palestinian uprising more than three years ago.

Fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups has intensified in Gaza in recent weeks.

Palestinian militant groups say they want to show they are driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans for a phased withdrawal of troops and Jewish settlers from the territory.