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5 Palestinians  Dead After Clashes with Israeli Soldiers - 2004-04-20

Five Palestinians are dead after fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers Tuesday in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli officials said the troops went into the area in a bid to prevent more mortar and rocket attacks against Israel.

The Israeli raid was in an area close to the town of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, which has been the scene of repeated attacks in recent days against Jewish settlements and towns in southern Israel.

The Israeli Army said that the soldiers were moving to stop Palestinians from using the area as a base to launch mortar shells and rockets. When the Israeli troops entered the area, Palestinians armed with automatic rifles began shooting at the troops, who returned fire.

Other Palestinian residents threw fire-bombs, set off explosives and hurled hand-grenades in a bid to drive the soldiers away.

During the fighting, some Palestinians attempted to climb onto Israeli armored vehicles and soldiers shot at them.

Most of the Palestinians killed during the raid were teenagers.

At least five Israeli soldiers were also wounded.

The raid came after Palestinians fired 15 home-made Kassam rockets at Israeli targets over the past two days, wounding at least seven Israelis, two of them infants.

Palestinians on Tuesday also fired two mortars at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian attacks followed the killing on Saturday of the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, in an Israeli military helicopter strike.

Hamas, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, has carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed that more leaders of Hamas will suffer the same fate as Mr. Rantisi.