Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israel razes homes in Gaza vengeance

MISSILE WAKEUPAfter a missile strike killed a 55-year-old man, camp refugees fled in their pajamas from an army convoy of 14 tanks and three bulldozers


Israeli army bulldozers tore down 35 homes in a Palestinian refugee camp early yesterday, a UN aid official said, a day after a mortar fired from the area killed a resident of a Jewish settlement.

At the start of the incursion into the Khan Younis camp, a 55-year-old Palestinian was killed and five people were wounded in an air strike. Palestinians fired on the army bulldozers and tanks as they moved in, and one resident said he and his four children fled in their pajamas as their two-room house was destroyed.

The military said troops destroyed several uninhabited structures that had provided cover for militants shelling the nearby settlement of Neve Dekalim.

The fighting took place on the edge of Khan Younis, close to Neve Dekalim. On Friday, Hamas militants fired two mortars at the settlement, killing 24-year-old Tiferet Tratner, who according to settlement officials had dual Israeli-American citizenship.

The raid came on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, when observant Jews pray, fast and ask for forgiveness. Israel shut down for the fast, closing its borders, and streets were deserted. Armed guards were posted at synagogues and soldiers enforced a blanket closure of the West Bank and Gaza.

In the Khan Younis camp, residents came out into the streets after daybreak yesterday to inspect the destruction. Municipal officials initially said 20 houses had been destroyed. However, the UN Relief and Works Agency later said 35 houses had been razed.

Fathi Zaroub, a father of four, said he was at home when a bulldozer approached.

"We were forced to leave the house under intensive shooting from the sky and from the tanks," Zaroub said by telephone from the camp. "We took nothing from our belongings. We ran away in our pajamas, and we have no other refuge ... I don't know where I am going to take my children."

Zaroub said the homes of most relatives had also been destroyed.

Thousands of Palestinians have been made homeless by Israeli house demolitions in Gaza in the past four years of fighting.

The incursion started around 1am when an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles toward a group of Palestinians at the edge of the camp. The army said the air strike was aimed at four men it claimed were trying to launch a rocket or rocket-propelled grenade. Palestinians said the missiles hit as onlookers rushed into the street to watch an Israeli armored convoy.

After the missile strike, the convoy's 14 tanks and three bulldozers moved into the camp and began tearing down houses. Dozens of Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire with troops.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have intensified fighting in Gaza. The deadly mortar attack on Friday marked the first time a resident of a Jewish settlement in Gaza was killed in Palestinian shelling, and was expected to mobilize further opposition to Sharon's withdrawal plan.

The attack came just before Yom Kippur, and there was no comment from settlers beyond an initial angry reaction on Friday, in which one Neve Dekalim resident blamed Sharon for the woman's death.

Neve Dekalim is one of 21 Gaza settlements, with a total of 8,200 residents, to be dismantled under Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan.

Sharon has said he believes Israel's presence in Gaza is untenable. He said evacuating the Gaza settlements and four isolated West Bank enclaves is a way of strengthening Israel's hold on parts of the West Bank, where most of its 236,000 settlers in Palestinian areas live.

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