[News] 50,000 trapped by Israeli assault on Gaza

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Tue Oct 5 19:28:40 EDT 2004


Chris McGreal in Jabaliya refugee camp
Tuesday October 5, 2004
The Guardian
50,000 trapped by Israeli assault on Gaza

Israeli forces have demolished the homes of hundreds of
Palestinians, bulldozed swaths of agricultural land and destroyed
infrastructure in their bloodiest assault on the Gaza Strip in
years.

More than 70 people have died in Operation Days of Penitence,
launched in northern Gaza six days ago after a Hamas rocket attack
killed two Israeli children. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem
said that the dead included 31 civilians. Nineteen were under 18.

Most of the nine people killed yesterday were Palestinian fighters,
but a teenage girl was among the dead, shot in her home. In southern
Gaza Israeli forces killed a four-year-old boy in Khan Yunis refugee
camp, where several Palestinian children have been shot dead in
recent weeks.

Last night the Israeli army said it had killed a Palestinian gunman
who had tried to infiltrate a nearby settlement. Early today an
Israeli missile strike in Jabaliya killed one Palestinian militant
and wounded two others.

But shielded from view is the suffering of about 50,000 Palestinians
trapped in areas seized by hundreds of Israeli troops, backed by
about 200 tanks and armoured vehicles.

Palestinians in the Israeli-held areas, including parts of Jabaliya
refugee camp and the small town of Beit Hanoun, described by
telephone the widespread destruction and desperate living
conditions.

Armoured bulldozers had demolished scores, possibly hundreds, of
homes, they said. Thousands of people had spent days without
electricity and water, although power was restored sporadically
yesterday. Residents said that the destruction of sewage systems had
contaminated the water supplies in some areas.

  "I can hear shooting now," said Hanna Basyouni, 35, who has seven
children, speaking from an occupied section of Jabaliya. "I see the
tanks below me. The tanks and the bulldozers are 50 metres away from
my home. I can see them shooting right now."

Mrs Basyouni lives on the edge of Jabaliya where, she said, the
Israeli army had bulldozed greenhouses that had been families' only
source of income for several generations.

The Israeli military says it is clearing a six-mile-wide buffer zone
to stop Hamas launching rockets across the border. But yesterday the
Islamist group fired two missiles into Israel. "There's not one tree
left for as far as I can see," said Mrs Basyouni. "Five or six homes
around me are completely bulldozed, and I can't be sure how many
beyond that. My sister's home was destroyed ... [She] is living in a
tent. She has nine children."

Ambulance drivers, the only Palestinians permitted to cross into the
occupied areas, confirmed the scale of the destruction. Abid Ahmed
Abu Mohammed, a driver for Kamal Odwan hospital, said: "We saw at
least 50 houses bulldozed on the edge of Jabaliya and many inside
the camp.

"I think most of the bulldozing was to make way for the tanks. There
are main roads but the Israelis were afraid to use them because of
mines. The bulldozers ... destroyed whatever was in their way -
entire streets."

The Israeli army said it had destroyed or damaged a "small number"
of homes, either because its soldiers had been attacked or to allow
its tanks to avoid booby-trapped roads.

Many people are without water in Beit Hanoun, a town of 15,000 near
the border with Israel. Aref Azaneed, a ministry of agriculture
inspector, said: "The water and the sewage lines are near each
other. When the tanks destroy them, they mix. The water from the tap
has sewage in it."

Over the past three years the army has levelled 60% of Beit Hanoun's
agricultural land, destroying its wealth and the main source of
citrus fruit and olives in the Gaza Strip.

"Nobody comes in, nobody goes out," Mr Azaneed said. "We can only
move inside Beit Hanoun, and in a very careful way. There are about
40 tanks about 30 metres from houses close to Salahadin Road."

A UN official said yesterday Israel had wrongly accused Hamas
militants of using a UN ambulance to carry rockets, while Israeli
officials renewed accusations that Unrwa, the UN agency for
Palestinian refugees, was harbouring terrorists, the Associated
Press reported.

Israel has demanded the UN investigate the actions of Peter Hansen,
its top official in Gaza, after its army released video footage from
an unmanned aircraft that reportedly showed militants loading a
rocket into a UN vehicle in Gaza.

The UN says the footage shows a worker loading a stretcher into the
vehicle. On Monday Mr Hansen wrote to the Israeli foreign minister,
Silvan Shalom, accusing Israel of inventing the story.




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