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January 10, 2002
Governor calls Rafah "disaster zone" after Israel bulldozes 73 homes



Governor calls Rafah "disaster zone" after Israel bulldozes 73 homes

Agence France Presse
January 10, 2002

RAFAH, Gaza Strip--A dozen Israeli tanks and bulldozers razed 73 houses in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah early Thursday, the town governor said, after the killing of four Israeli soldiers by Hamas militants from the Rafah area.

The tanks and bulldozers carried out their task amid heavy firing, witnesses said. The Israeli army said its forces came under fire from grenades and automatic weapons, but there were no reports of casualties. The Israelis ended their operation and withdrew at dawn, leaving clusters of newly-homeless Palestinians shivering in the cold mud around makeshift campfires, close to the craters of what had until then been their homes.

The tanks and bulldozers had begun destroying homes under cover of heavy machine-gun fire in Block O, a neighborhood under Palestinian self-rule in the town on the Egyptian border, witnesses and security sources said.

Block O sits close to the border zone, which falls under tight Israeli military control and is a frequent flashpoint.

Rafah's governor Sufian al-Agha said that 73 houses had been flattened and 123 families left homeless, adding that some women and children had been treated for shock and cold after the operation.

He called the district a "disaster zone."

"We are hoping international organisations will do something. I am surprised there has been no international stand against the Israeli practices here," he said.

He said Israel had also destroyed some Palestinian fishing boats and motors on the Gaza coast.

The governor said there had been no firing in the area since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for an end to Israeli attacks on December 16.

"I was surprised the Israelis bulldozed tthese houses. There was no shooting for three weeks," he told AFP.

An Israeli army spokesman said the buildings destoyed had provided cover for gunmen attacking army posts, as well as providing a blind for weapons smuggling from Egypt, just across the border.

In Wednesday's attack claimed by Hamas, two gunmen disguised as police officers used automatic rifles and grenades to kill four Israeli soldiers at an army post outside the kibbutz of Kerem Shalom, just across the border from Rafah.

The deadly raid shattered a three-week lull in violence that began after Arafat's televised plea for a halt to attacks on Israel.

Already on Wednesday evening, Israeli tanks had moved into Palestinian land near Gaza international airport close to Rafah and bulldozed a Palestinian security post, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.

Israeli forces had earlier taken over three Palestinian navy police stations in the Mawasy area of the southern Gaza Strip under Israeli security control. The Palestinian police officers were disarmed and evicted.

Two abandoned Palestinian police posts east of Rafah had also been shelled by Israeli tanks after the Hamas raid, which was the first successful cross-border attack by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip.