News and opinions on situation in the Middle East
13/10/03 Haaretz: IDF Rafah operation leaves 2,000 homeless By Arnon Regular and Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Forces yesterday completed the first stage of its operation to uncover arms-smuggling tunnels in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, and pulled its troops out of the refugee camp, redeploying along the Egyptian border. International aid organizations and UNRWA officials were then able to make an initial assessment of the damage: some 100 houses were destroyed, leaving about 2,000 people homeless. Eight Palestinians, including two children, were killed earlier during the 72-hour operation that began early Friday morning.

In a separate incident yesterday, Samir Elbayout, a militant from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, was killed while attempting to attack the Morag settlement, also in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Most of the homes that were destroyed in the Rafah camp were hit by tank shells and heavy machine gun fire. Others were leveled by explosives placed by the IDF. Since the beginning of the intifada over three years ago, some 500 homes in this area have been destroyed in similar operations. Much of this area of the Rafah camp was already abandoned due to the daily exchange of gunfire between IDF forces and Palestinians seeking to defend the tunnels they had built.

The meager infrastructure that existed in this section of the Rafah camp - including sewage pipes and electric and telephone lines - was totally destroyed by IDF tanks and bulldozers, international and Palestinian sources said yesterday.

UNRWA director Peter Hansen visited Rafah yesterday and said "the scene is shocking." He added that they were still trying to assess the damage, and argued that "there is no security consideration that could justify such an attack against civilians." Hansen added, "I am pessimistic in regard to the Israeli motives in activities in the area."

Army: 10 tunnels still operating
Sources at the Southern Command said yesterday that the IDF will blow up the two remaining tunnels discovered during the Rafah campaign in the coming days. The IDF already destroyed a third tunnel used for arms smuggling.

Additional IDF incursions in the area are expected to be conducted at a later date. The army's assessment is that at least another 10 tunnels are in operation. According to the Southern Command, the first stage of the operation was a "positive start" in the renewed effort to deal with these tunnels.

It turned out that the intelligence information the IDF received about the tunnels was quite precise. However, there were technical difficulties in locating the openings to these tunnels - especially when some of the tunnels had several openings.

The operation in Rafah has escalated the warfare in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Three Qassam rockets were fired across the Green Line from this area and landed within kibbutzim near the city of Sderot. No injuries or damage was reported. Four mortars were also shot at Jewish settlements in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. No one was injured, but the mortars caused some property damage.

Other shooting incidents occurred further north in the Gaza Strip, near the Netzarim settlement, and in Tul Karm in the West Bank.

© Copyright 2003 Haaretz

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