Peres condemns Israel's demolition of Gaza homes


Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other cabinet ministers today criticized the Israeli army demolition of dozens of Palestinian refugee homes in the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian child cries in the rubble of his house destroyed by the Israeli army in Rafah Photo: Reuters

The Israeli army said the homes it destroyed were abandoned and used by gunmen targeting its troops or were located above tunnels through which arms were smuggled into Rafah from Egypt, just across the border.

As families huddled around campfires near tents erected amid the rubble of their destroyed homes, the ICRC distributed emergency supplies, including blankets, hygiene kits, cooking sets and gas lamps.

"Destruction of homes causes us very bad media damage. In the matter of destroying homes we have to be very, very careful," Mr Peres said on Israel Radio. The army said it destroyed 21 homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the demolitions as the only way to prevent explosives from reaching militants via Rafah.

"Israel decided to stop the smuggling of weapons by the Palestinian Authority and then we have to find the best and easiest way to do it. As a result of this smuggling not only the Israelis suffer - the Palestinians suffer," Mr Sharon told foreign reporters in Tel Aviv.

Palestinians said they were paying the price for a cross-border raid on Wednesday by the Islamic militant group Hamas that killed four soldiers in southern Israel.

Israel's military commander in the Gaza Strip, Brigadier Yisrael Ziv, said on Army Radio that soldiers had been observing the camp for some time and no one had been living in the homes when they were destroyed. He said anything to the contrary was "Palestinian Authority manipulation."

Rafah is perhaps the most volatile front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most of its nearly 80,000 refugees are unemployed.