Gaza fighting leaves 8 Palestinians dead

Israeli troops, militants trade fire

3 reported killed in West Bank


JERUSALEM - Israeli soldiers killed at least eight Palestinians yesterday as the Israeli army sent tanks into Beit Lahia in the second successive day of heavy fighting in the northern Gaza town, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.

The attacks came a day after Israeli soldiers killed five Palestinians in daylong clashes in the same area.

Israel says it is trying to halt repeated Palestinian rocket fire coming from the area. Palestinian militants had begun stepping up rocket attacks Sunday, a day after an Israeli helicopter strike killed Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Gaza leader of Hamas. Less than a month earlier, Israel killed his predecessor, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in the same fashion.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday that the "targeted killings" would continue.

"We got rid of murderer No. 1 and murderer No. 2, and the list is not short," he said in a speech in Ashdod, the Reuters news agency reported.

The killings yesterday came after Israeli troops and tanks moved into the Palestinian town and surrounded a housing complex, the Associated Press reported. Militants have launched home-made missiles from the area at Jewish settlements.

As bulldozers demolished a building, gunmen exchanged fire with troops, witnesses told the Associated Press. The Israeli army said its forces had come under heavy fire by anti-tank missiles and grenades, but no Israeli casualties were reported.

Early today, Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, Palestinian officials said. The three men - members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction - had gunshot wounds but the circumstances of their killing were not immediately known.

The fighting in Gaza prevented about 4,000 residents from leaving their homes and prevented about 3,000 students from going to school, residents told the AP. Some of the teen-agers joined in the fighting, throwing rocks at Israeli troops, the witnesses said.

Yesterday's clashes mirrored fighting on Tuesday, when tanks and an armored bulldozer entered the Beit Lahia area and Palestinian youths pelted the vehicles with stones and firebombs. In Tuesday's clashes, Palestinians fired automatic rifles and tossed grenades, and the soldiers shot at armed Palestinians, the military said. In addition to the five deaths, about 30 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the fighting, which involved hundreds of Palestinians in the dunes around Beit Lahia, the two sides said.

Three of the five Palestinians killed Tuesday were teen-agers and included armed fighters, according to Palestinian witnesses and Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Palestinians have been barred from entering Israel since Yassin was killed March 22. Palestinian attackers have not been able to reach Israeli cities in more than a month, although Israeli security forces say they have thwarted numerous attempts.

But Palestinian militants in Gaza are able to fire homemade rockets at Jewish settlements inside Gaza and at communities just beyond Gaza's perimeter.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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