Israel Razes 35 Palestinian Homes in Gaza

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

September 25, 2004

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli army bulldozers razed 35 homes in a Palestinian refugee camp Saturday, a U.N. official said, a day after a resident of a nearby Jewish settlement was killed by mortar fire from the area.

The army said most of the demolished structures in the Khan Younis camp were uninhabited and served as cover for militants shelling the nearby settlement of Neve Dekalim.

However, after troops withdrew Saturday, dozens of Palestinians pulled clothes, kitchen utensils, school books, mattresses and other belongings from the rubble. One resident said he and his four children had fled in their pajamas as the family's two-story house was destroyed.

The incursion began just after midnight Friday with a missile strike that killed a 55-year-old Palestinian and wounded five other people. The army said the missiles were aimed at militants trying to launch a rocket.

Tanks and army bulldozers then drove into the camp, drawing fire from Palestinian gunmen.

The fighting took place close to Neve Dekalim, where a Hamas mortar killed 24-year-old Tiferet Tratner, an Israeli-American, on Friday. The attack marked the first time a Gaza settler was killed by Palestinian shelling.

Neve Dekalim is one of 21 Gaza settlements, with a total of 8,200 residents, to be dismantled under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ``unilateral disengagement'' plan. Sharon has argued that evacuating the Gaza settlements and four isolated West Bank enclaves will strengthen Israel's hold on other areas of the West Bank where most of its 236,000 settlers live.

A missile fired by Palestinians at an Israeli target Saturday fell short of its target and hit a car in the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, blowing up the vehicle but causing no injuries, witnesses said.

The fighting 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, roads, and airports. Armed guards were posted at synagogues and soldiers enforced a blanket closure of the West Bank and Gaza.

In Khan Younis, 35 houses -- standard camp structures consisting of two rooms each -- were destroyed Saturday, according to a field researcher of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which assists refugees.

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

``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.''

Some 20,000 homes have been destroyed and about 130,000 Palestinians have been made homeless by Israeli house demolitions in Gaza and the West Bank in the past four years of fighting, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights,

Israel does not provide its own figures but says it generally targets houses and buildings that serve as cover for Palestinian militants. In many areas, troops have destroyed entire blocks to widen buffer zones between Palestinian camps or towns and Jewish settlements.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have intensified fighting in Gaza. The Palestinian militants want to portray Israel's planned withdrawal in 2005 as a hasty retreat under fire, while Israel wants to pound the militant groups before leaving.