Two armed Palestinians attack main Gaza-Israel checkpoint

Two Palestinians armed with an explosives belt attacked the Erez checkpoint between Israel and Gaza before daybreak Thursday, and were killed in an ensuing shootout with Israeil troops, the military said, the latest in an escalating series of clashes in the volatile territory.

The Palestinians threw hand grenades and opened fire on Israeli forces guarding the checkpoint, and soldiers shot the attackers, killing both, the military said. There were no Israeli casualties.

The explosives belt exploded during the exchange of fire, it added. The Popular Resistance Committees and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed joint responsibility for the attack in a call to The Associated Press.

Erez is the main crossing for thousands of Palestinian workers with jobs in Israel. Israel routinely closes the crossing after violent incidents, leaving the workers idle.

On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian as he approached the Karni cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. A second Palestinian died of his wounds Wednesday evening, Palestinian hospital officials said. Both were members of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

The past week has been a violent one, with Palestinians stepping up rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns from Gaza, and Israel retaliating with artillery fire and airstrikes. Over the past week, 13 Gaza militants have been killed in airstrikes and other incidents.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in the summer, it has said it would not tolerate Palestinian attacks originating from the coastal strip.

In other news Wednesday, demonstrations over the offending Muhammad cartoons turned ugly in the West Bank city of Hebron, where protesters attacked a peacekeeping force's headquarters while the mission was inside.

Peacekeepers sent to the volatile West Bank city of Hebron in 1994 after a massacre by a Jewish settler left the city after the assault, which was the most violent Palestinian protest against the caricatures to date.

About 300 protesters overpowered Palestinian police and stormed the peacekeepers' three-story building, breaking windows and smashing cars, while calling out slogans against the cartoons. A few broke into the building but were repulsed by unarmed peacekeepers swinging clubs.

Eleven Danish members of the Temporary International Force in Hebron, or TIPH, pulled out last week, but after the attack Wednesday, all 60 members of the mission's foreign staff who were inside the building decided to leave for their own safety, mission spokeswoman Gunhild Forselv said, reports the AP.

I.L.