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Palestine | International

Israel 'to step up demolitions'
by bbc
Sunday May 16th, 2004 12:44 PM
The Israeli army has said it plans to destroy hundreds more homes in the Gaza Strip, after Israel's Supreme Court said demolitions could go ahead.
Chief of Staff Lt Gen Moshe Yaalon said the homes along the border with Egypt needed to be destroyed to prevent them being used by Palestinian militants.

The court earlier rejected an appeal by Palestinians against the destruction.

The US has joined a growing chorus of international condemnation, saying it opposes the demolition policy.

UN relief officials estimate that Israel has destroyed more than 80 buildings in the Rafah camp during the past few days, leaving about 1,100 Palestinians homeless.

'Self-defence'

The Supreme Court on Sunday lifted a temporary injunction banning the military from demolishing any more homes.

Opponents argued that the demolitions were an illegitimate act of revenge, after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian militants in the area last week.

Military officials told the court the demolitions were only carried out to defend soldiers' lives and that no homes were needlessly destroyed.

In delivering its ruling, the court said the army was entitled to carry out demolitions for reasons of self-defence.

Israel says militants have used the buildings as shelter from which to attack troops patrolling the 50-metre wide (160 feet) border with Egypt, known as the Philadelphia Corridor, and as cover to smuggle weapons through tunnels from Egypt.

Gen Yaalon said hundreds of homes near Israel's border with Egypt are earmarked for destruction.

"If we get to this point we will destroy them," he said.

Dozens of Palestinians reportedly started to evacuate their homes in the Rafah camp after the court issued its ruling.

"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 leave a four-storey building.

Israel rebuked

There has been widespread international condemnation of the Gaza demolitions.

The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA), Peter Hansen, said he was "extremely alarmed" at the planned demolitions, describing it as "collective punishment".

The Palestinian cabinet said the demolitions were tantamount to "ethnic cleansing".

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the destruction violated international law.

And US Secretary of State Colin Powell, voicing rare criticism of Washington's closest Middle East ally, said that although Israel had the right to defend itself, the US did not think the demolitions were "productive".

Mr Powell also rebuked Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for urging Palestinians to "terrorise the enemy".

He said Mr Arafat was making it "exceptionally difficult" to move the peace process forward.

Early on Sunday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at targets in Gaza City, hitting buildings used by Mr Arafat's Fatah movement and offices of a newspaper that has supported the Hamas militant group.

The blasts caused heavy damage to the buildings and several bystanders were reported wounded.

Peace rally

More than 100,000 Israelis attended a rally on Saturday night calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The demonstration in Tel Aviv was organised to show support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pullout plan, which has been rejected by the ruling Likud Party.

Labour leader Shimon Peres told the demonstrators that Israel "will say good-bye to Gaza".

The rally organisers claimed it was one of the largest protests of its kind since the demonstrations against Israel's invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3718529.stm