Disaster zone declared after Israeli raid 

Disaster zone declared after Israeli raid

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Disaster zone declared after Israeli raid
From correspondents in Rafah
October 13, 2003

THE governor of the southern Gaza town of Rafah declared the area a disaster zone yesterday following a major raid by Israeli forces that killed eight Palestinians and left hundreds homeless.

Palestinian security sources and an AFP correspondent witnessed about 40 tanks pulling out of the area on Saturday night.

Although an Israeli military source confirmed the withdrawal, he hinted it was only temporary.

The operation to destroy weapons-smuggling tunnels snaking under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt would "continue as long as is necessary", he said.

Despite the pullback, medical sources said six more Palestinians were moderately injured by Israeli gunfire yesterday, as troops fired intermittently from the Israeli-controlled border area to which they retreated.

"We announce Rafah is a city of disaster," said Rafah Governor Majid al-Ghal, pointing out that at least 100 houses had been destroyed during the operation.

"They have destroyed the roads, the water supplies, sewage, telephones, electricity."

A local source for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights also said "at least 100 houses" had been destroyed.

Peter Hansen, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency, said about 1500 people had been left homeless as a result of the operation.

"We have had very, very significant damage to the refugee camp," he said.

"It would appear between 100 and 120 shelters/houses were completely destroyed or demolished ... If these initial estimates are correct, it will mean we will have some 1500 persons added to the homeless roll in Rafah."

An Israeli source said the figures were "definitely exaggerated" and that only "around 10 houses" under which the tunnels ran had been destroyed.

Other houses could have been damaged when the tunnels collapsed, or when mortar shells fired by the Palestinians themselves went awry.

"During the intensive fighting, they fired literally dozens of anti-tank missiles," said the Israeli source. "All of this weaponry had to hit something."

Governor Ghal was deeply sceptical the aim of the operation was merely to destroy the tunnels.

"They want a buffer zone near the border. The subject of tunnels is a false accusation and a lie. Why destroy trees, agricultural land?"

Eight Palestinians were killed, including two children and two teenagers, and about 80 injured during the operation launched on Thursday night in which Israel has managed to locate three tunnels.

In retaliation for the raid, Hamas's armed wing said it fired a makeshift Qassam rocket towards the Israeli town of Sderot. The rocket caused no damage or injuries.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian militant was shot dead late Saturday by Israeli soldiers near the Jewish settlement of Morag in southern Gaza while trying to place an explosive device outside the fence.

He and two others were spotted in an area off-limits to Palestinians, so troops opened fire hitting one of them, military sources said.

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced by loudspeaker in Rafah that one of its fighters had been killed in the incident, witnesses said.

Further north, two Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire in Khan Yunis, Palestinian medical sources said. A four-year-old girl was said to be in critical condition after being hit in the neck by a bullet.

Palestinian security sources said troops began shooting after militants fired a mortar shell toward the Jewish settlement of Ganei Tal.

Troops were also active in the northern West Bank late Sunday, with around 15 tanks and jeeps pushing into the town of Kafr Rai just south of Jenin, witnesses said.

The forces converged on five houses in the town and arrested 10 people, security sources said.

Agence France-Presse



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