3 Israeli soldiers are killed

During the first month, the fighting escalated from Palestinian rock-throwers attacking then retreating from Israeli soldiers, to pitched battles between armed Palestinian militias and Israelis.

The severity of some battles prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's top security aide, Danny Yatom, to announce Wednesday "it is possible we will decide that military steps taken so far have not been enough."

The ongoing clashes, however, did not prevent a meeting between cabinet member Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

The two met in Gaza on Wednesday night, hours after Israel sent tanks and helicopters into battles in the West Bank with Palestinian gunmen.

Barak gave the go-ahead for the meeting after Leah Rabin, widow of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — who was assassinated five years ago this week — asked the premier to make use of Peres' proven peacemaking abilities.

At least two Palestinians, including a policeman, also were killed in a heavy battle Wednesday at a village near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli combat helicopters fired rockets during the clash in the village of Al-Khader, but Israeli officials said the helicopters were evacuating the Israeli casualties.

An Israeli tank shelled targets Wednesday in Beit Shahour, also near Bethlehem, in response to Palestinian gunfire there.

The same day, Israel's army accused Palestinian gunmen of using a Red Crescent ambulance and first aid station to fire at the Jewish settlement of Psagot in the West Bank.

The army, which did not return the fire, called the inci dents a "dangerous escalation by the Palestinian Authority."

Israeli helicopters fired rockets Wednesday at a training center for Palestinian security forces in the West Bank town of Jericho. The helicopters struck after Palestinian gunmen opened fired at Israeli soldiers.

And in Jerusalem, one person was lightly injured when a pipe bomb exploded near a parked jeep, Israeli police said.

A police spokesman said the device had been placed next to the jeep on a street near the city's main municipal theater.

Also on Wednesday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and Israeli troops returned the fire. No injuries were reported.

The attack, from the nearby Arab town of Beit Jalla, was the first since last Friday.

On Saturday, Israel's army pulled its tanks away from Gilo. But army officials warned the tanks would return if Palestinians resumed firing on the neighborhood.

The continued unrest prompted the Israel Defense Force to announce Monday it planned to take the offensive against the Palestinian militia forces to prevent attacks on soldiers and Jewish settlers.

Hours later, Israeli helicopters struck Palestinian positions in the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Nablus, and in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

Army officials said the strikes were part of their plan to attack the armed militias of Arafat's Fatah faction.

The strikes occurred after a Jewish security guard was killed and another one seriously wounded when they were shot at close range Monday inside a branch of the National Insurance Institute in eastern Jerusalem.

The guard who was killed, Esh-Kodesh Gilmore, was a U.S. citizen whose family had moved to Israel. In a separate incident Monday, Palestinian police handed over the body of an Israeli found in an Arab area on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Israeli police said Monday the body was bound and had multiple stab wounds.

In addition to dealing with the ongoing clashes in the territories, Israeli security forces are on heightened alert for attempts by Islamic militants to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in the territories and inside Israel.