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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
US bombers strike at Iraqi city
US armour outside Falluja on 16 October
American armour has been circling the city for days
Overnight strikes by American bombers on the western Iraqi city of Falluja have killed three people, local hospital sources said.

Warplanes swooped in on a mission to destroy a "key terrorist checkpoint" in the city's Jolan district, the US military reported.

Falluja has been surrounded by US and Iraqi forces seeking to regain control of the Sunni stronghold since Thursday.

In the Baghdad area, two US helicopters crashed with the death of two soldiers.

'Key checkpoint '

American bombers attack targets in Falluja - an industrial city of some 300,000 people - almost on a daily basis.

They struck again at around 2245 (1945 GMT) on Saturday against a checkpoint manned by militants loyal to Islamist figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the US military said in a statement.

"The terrorists operating this illegal checkpoint were heavily armed and were using the blockade to disrupt traffic, intimidate and harass local citizens and interrogate and detain local civilians," it added.

"The checkpoint... was considered key to the Zarqawi network's ability to control movement into and out of the city."

Three people were killed in the US attack, a Falluja doctor, Ali Hayad, told AFP news agency. He did not give details.

Earlier on Saturday, US artillery shells killed a girl aged three in the Falluja area, whose body was later filmed by Reuters television in hospital in the city.

Three other children and a woman were wounded.

Helicopters 'crash'

The American helicopters crashed south-west of Baghdad late on Saturday.

Two soldiers were also injured when the helicopters came down at 2035 (1735 GMT).

It is not clear whether the helicopters were shot at, and the cause of the crash is now being investigated.

At least 27 US helicopters have been lost in Iraq since May 2003, many of them to hostile fire, according to the Brookings Institution.

Residents of Falluja are living in fear

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