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Israeli Helicopters Fire on Palestinians in Gaza Strip - 2004-08-16

Israeli helicopter gunships fired four missiles at targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday, killing two Palestinians who, the army said, were preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Israeli military sources said the attack took place when a group of militants were spotted in a cemetery near the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Israel Radio said Palestinian witnesses reported that ambulances had initially hesitated before approaching the scene of the attack because of continuing machine gunfire from the attack helicopters.

In another development on Monday, Israeli security officers found what they believe was a pipe bomb near the fence surrounding the Tel Mond prison. Prison officials say they believe the incident is connected to a hunger strike started by Palestinian prisoners the day before.

Some 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli detention are said to be taking part in the strike, which was called to protest prison conditions.

The prisoners are demanding a range of concessions, including an end to strip searches.

Israel's internal security minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, rejected the inmates' demands. He told The Jerusalem Post that cell phones are often found during strip searches, and that the phones frequently are used to plan terror attacks.

On Sunday, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was taken into Israeli custody at an Israeli roadblock near the West Bank town of Tulkarem. The military issued a statement saying 900 rounds of M-16 ammunition were found in a backpack the boy was wearing.

The unidentified boy said a stranger paid him 10 shekels - about $2 - to carry the pack through the checkpoint. The boy said he was unaware of what was in it.