Tags: Sharon | Admits | Some | Razed | Homes | Not | Empty

Sharon Admits Some Razed Homes Not Empty

Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM

"Most of the buildings were empty,” Sharon said, contradicting army claims that all the homes they destroyed last Thursday had been empty for three months.

The demolitions have brought sharp criticism from both domestic and international observers.

The army said it destroyed 21 houses last Thursday, but United Nations officials said some 60 homes were demolished rendering 114 families homeless. The officials added that 145 homes have been razed in the Rafah refugee camp since the Palestinian intifada began on September 2000.

The Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem, said 475 people were in the houses at the time of the demolitions, and that a total of 614 people were rendered homeless.

According to one government source, Defense Minister Ben-Elizier told the Israeli Cabinet he would provide replacement homes for any families displaced.

Ben-Eliezer said that he and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave the go ahead for the demolitions. "This is a place from which they shoot, daily, at Israeli soldiers," he said.

The defense minister said his orders were to demolish "only uninhabited structures" and the army reported having done so. But one Palestinian resident of Rafah, Salah Abadi, whose home abutted a narrow Israeli wedge that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt, told Israel Radio he had been awakened at 2 a.m. Thursday when the tanks and mechanical equipment approached his house.

"I don't have another coat, shirt, underwear or shoes except for what I am wearing. My children have nothing," said Abadi.

The narrow wedge -- a few dozen meters wide -- separates the Palestinian territories from Egypt, and has come under frequent attack from the neighboring Rafah refugee camp. Sharon said Sunday he would like to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on expanding it.

The demolitions brought a series of stinging attacks against Ben-Elizier.

"What happened ... is a disgrace for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli public. It is crude cruelty, a military operation that lacks human and diplomatic logic," Zeev Schiff, a commentator for the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote Sunday.

"It is an example of excessive and unreasonable use of force."

Knesset Member Zehava Galon called the demolitions, "acts of political idiocy."

The demolitions were also criticized by Minister Without Portfolio Salah Tarif, a Labor member of the coalition cabinet. He called for mobile homes to be provided for those left homeless.

A statement from the Palestinian Authority Saturday accused Israel of responsibility for the murder of Palestinians, of violating the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, and of collective punishment against civilians in the Rafah refugee camp.

Palestinian human rights organizations will submit evidence to the United Nations and the international war crimes tribunal seeking charges, the statement said.

The Israeli army said that during the demolitions they discovered a tunnel Palestinians used to smuggle arms, drugs, and other goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The tunnel ran under several homes and was operated by residents and Palestinian security forces, Israeli military sources added.

The prime minister's media advisor, Raanan Gissin, told reporters that the new discovery brings to 18 the number of such tunnels Israel has found.

The tunnels served as one of the means of bringing arms into the Palestinian territories, he said.

With the destruction of Gaza International airport's runway it has become virtually impossible to import arms by air. Israel has also blocked sea routes along the Gaza Strip's coast after it apprehended a ship laden with arms in the Red Sea earlier this month.

Gissin accused the Palestinians of orchestrating evening attacks on Israeli forces to serve as a decoy for the gun running operation.

Sharon suggested that the Israeli wedge at the border needed to be widened at Sunday's cabinet meeting, and then again at a meeting with foreign correspondents in Jerusalem.

"The narrow corridor does not allow us to stop that (smuggling) so maybe there should be a more basic and serious solution," he said.

The prime minister suggested "giving some land around there (to the Palestinians) and pay(ing) for it."

An aide to Sharon said the idea would be to "swap" land with the Palestinian Authority. Israel controls large tracts of land in the southern Gaza Strip around its settlements there.

The situation has its origins in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty some 20 years ago, which secured Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. The new border cut through Rafah, part of which was Egyptian and part Palestinian.

The Israelis then fenced in a strip of land and built a patrol road along the border. The strip ran through some buildings that were demolished, but other homes in the Rafah refugee camp were left abutting the border fence.

Sharon said Israel has decided "to make every effort to stop (the) smuggling of weapons" through the tunnels it says the Palestinians have built under the border.

"As result of this smuggling not only the Israelis suffer but the Palestinians suffer and we have to find a way to do it," he asserted.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Most of the buildings were empty," Sharon said, contradicting army claims that all the homes they destroyed last Thursday had been empty for three months. The demolitions have brought sharp criticism from both domestic and international observers. The army said it...
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Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM
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