Gaza homes marked for destruction
MAHMOUD Abu Anzeh knows his house is likely to be next on the list for demolition by the Israeli army.
Mr Abu Anzeh fled his home in the Block O neighbourhood of Rafah Refugee Camp on Wednesday with his two wives and seven children, amid fire from a Israeli helicopter gun-ship.
He returned on Saturday to find his house pock-marked; six homes of relatives directly across the alley from him had been turned into rubble.
"My family is staying in a school near the mosque," said the former agricultural worker, now in Israel in a two-room concrete home adorned with framed verses from the Koran. "I don’t know what we will do. We have no money to rent another house. They will destroy the house, but crying will not help. I am crying inside."
Israeli officials in the process of carrying out the largest Israeli demolition operation during three and a half years of fighting say they have only just started. The Israelis are trying to widen a border corridor with Egypt, which they say is crucial to thwarting the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
Yesterday, Israel’s top general threatened to destroy hundreds more homes of Palestinian refugees after the country’s supreme court cleared the way for more demolitions in Rafah.
"Hundreds of houses have been marked for destruction," a senior official quoted Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon as telling the cabinet at its weekly meeting. He did not give a time-frame.
The court, in refusing to block the demolitions, appeared to set broad terms for bulldozing homes, saying the army could destroy houses for operational purposes or to protect soldiers.
The decision is likely to make thousands of Palestinians homeless. Dozens have already started to evacuate their homes in the camp after learning of the decision.
"I don’t know what to take. I will start with clothes or the refrigerator or the television," said Abed al-Majid Abu Shamala, 52, preparing to flee a four-storey dwelling.
The Palestinian Authority’s Rafah governorate yesterday appealed for humanitarian aid to help with the new homeless and the expected waves to come.
"I have not changed my clothes for five days," said Filastin Abu Tyur, 16, now living in the girls’ school where she is a student. "Pupils came to the classrooms this morning, but the families told them, ‘we are staying here, we have nowhere to go’."
In addition to flattening homes, a political source said that Israeli officials were weighing a plan to spend millions of pounds on digging a wide canal in the buffer area of southern Gaza and possibly flooding it to block weapons smugglers.
The threatened demolitions drew immediate worldwide criticism.
The United Nations said Israel had made more than 12,000 people homeless in Rafah since the start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000, and that more demolitions would be in "grave breach" of international law. UN relief officials estimate that Israeli armoured bulldozers have levelled more than 80 buildings in Rafah in recent days, leaving about 1,100 Palestinians homeless.
The army said it demolished structures that provided cover for armed men.
"We are extremely alarmed that even more demolitions are planned," Peter Hansen, the UN Palestinian relief agency chief, said in a statement.
The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurie, accused the Israeli court ruling of permitting "ethnic cleansing crimes and collective punishment of innocent civilians".
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, told a news conference in Jordan that Washington opposed the "wholesale bulldozing of houses" in Rafah.
But Mr Powell sought to persuade Mr Qurie to "seize the opportunity" and accept an Israeli plan to quit Gaza, which Israeli officials expect the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to resubmit with minor alterations after his right-wing Likud party voted it down.
Last night, in a separate offensive, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at an office of Palestinian president Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement and that of another faction in Gaza City.
Doctors said the Fatah building and offices of the Democratic Front faction were empty at the time of the early morning strike and there were no casualties.
An Israeli statement said the missiles struck two offices "which served as focal points for Palestinian terrorist activity". The raid was close to the site of an ambush that killed six soldiers a week ago.
Ramzi Ramab, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which used one of the offices, said his workers had a narrow escape, fleeing as they heard the helicopters, "but the office was destroyed".
The Fatah-linked militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, called on supporters "to launch painful strikes against the enemy" in revenge for the missile strike.
Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli soldiers reportedly shot dead at least three Palestinians suspected of seeking to infiltrate Israel to plant explosives.
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