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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 01:29 GMT
Israel kills two 'armed infiltrators'
Hamas supporters take part in the funeral of three senior militants on Wednesday
Four Hamas members were killed by Israel on Tuesday
The Israeli army says its forces have killed two gunmen who tried to infiltrate a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip.

There was an exchange of fire and the two Palestinians were hit by a tank shell, the Israelis said.

Palestinian security sources said the Israeli army told them they were ready to hand over the bodies of the two men.

[President Bush] understands the reason that Israel has taken the action that it takes

US spokesman Ari Fleischer
The killings came just hours after a Hamas militant was killed by missiles fired from Israeli helicopter gunships in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Witnesses said at least two missiles hit the car.

Security sources named the dead man as Baker Hamdan, 30. Hospital officials said two other passengers in the car were wounded.

The latest violence incident in the region came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepted an invitation by US President George W Bush to meet in Washington on 7 February.

Israel's controversial policy

Thursday's helicopter gunship attack appears to be in line with Israel's recent policy of targeting militants it says are planning or involved in attacks on Israelis.

It followed a shooting spree on Tuesday by a Palestinian gunman who killed two Israeli women in Jerusalem's city centre.

The Israelis say Hamdan had been involved in the recent killing of four Israeli soldiers at an army post in Gaza and was planning more attacks.

Gaza protest against blockade of Arafat headquarters
Israel's blockade of Mr Arafat's HQ has angered Palestinians
The army said he had been arrested briefly by Palestinian police but was then released.

Three other Palestinians were killed earlier on Thursday, two in an explosion in Gaza and a third in a clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for what it described as a suicide operation in Gaza in which two militants died.

The attempted attack was in response for Israel's "assassination of four martyrs" in the West Bank town of Nablus on Tuesday, the PFLP said.

Palestinian security officials said a Palestinian intelligence officer died in a gun battle with Israeli troops in Ramallah, where Israeli tanks encircle the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Pressure on Arafat

Palestinian leaders have appealed for international intervention, saying they cannot enforce a ceasefire while West Bank towns remain under siege and Israel continues to kill suspected militants.

Like all Israelis who head to the Palestinian territories, Avraham Burg must receive permission from the army

Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush understood why Israel "has taken the action that it takes, and it is up to Chairman Arafat to demonstrate the leadership to combat terrorism."

And Mr Bush has now invited Mr Sharon to meet in Washington.

It will be Mr Sharon's second visit to the United States in just over two months, whereas Mr Arafat has not yet met the US president since he took office a year ago.

Parliamentary invitation

The speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qureia, warned on Thursday that the violence could lead to "a generalised disaster".

Mr Qureia invited Israel's parliament speaker, Avraham Burg, to address the Palestinian legislature, after meeting in France with Mr Burg and with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres - both dovish members of the moderate Labor party.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
The US is putting pressure on Arafat to arrest militants
Mr Burg said he would accept the invitation and go to Ramallah if it was legal under Israeli regulations.

But Israel's Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, said he intended to ban Mr Burg from going to Ramallah.

"Like all Israelis who head to the Palestinian territories, Avraham Burg must receive permission from the army," Mr Ben Eliezer said on public television.

The Palestinian intelligence chief, General Tawfiq Tirawi, contacted the television station and said: "Burg does not run any risks and he will be received with open arms."

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Another martyr for the Palestinian cause"
See also:

24 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Suicide squad' killed in Gaza blast
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
Crowds attend Hamas funeral
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
US puts pressure on Arafat
22 Jan 02 | Middle East
Militant released after Israeli raid
03 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are Hamas?
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