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Gaza Court Clears 4 Palestinians in Deaths of US Embassy Guards - 2004-03-14

A Palestinian judge in Gaza has set free four Palestinians suspected of involvement in a bomb attack that killed three U.S. embassy security guards last October.

Palestinian officials say a Palestinian judge ruled Sunday that there was not enough evidence to continue holding the four men and ordered them to be released.

The four suspects were members of the Palestinian Resistance Committee in Gaza, an umbrella group of all the Palestinian armed groups opposed to peace with Israel.

All four were arrested last month on suspicion of taking part in the roadside bombing of an American convoy last October as it headed towards Gaza City.

U.S. diplomats and even some senior Palestinian security officials immediately expressed doubts as to whether the men really were involved.

They were arrested only days after the United States offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the attackers.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, had also expressed anger over the failure of the Palestinian police to make any progress in their investigations into the incident.

They said they found it hard to believe that such an attack could have taken place without the knowledge of some officials in the Palestinian Authority.

The explosion ripped through an armored vehicle and was the deadliest attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy since the start of the Palestinian uprising more than three years ago.

The three victims of the attack were employed as security guards for the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

Following the attack, the U.S. ordered all American citizens to leave the Gaza Strip and also issued a warning to Americans in the West Bank to take precautions against terrorism.