Israel razes towers overlooking Gaza ambush site
( 2003-10-27 08:54) (Agencies)
In the largest demolition of Palestinian Authority buildings in Gaza in three years, the Israeli army Sunday blew up three apartment towers in retaliation for a deadly settlement attack.
Troops evacuated more than 2,000 Palestinians from surrounding homes before razing the towers, which the army said had served as staging points for militants who killed three soldiers at the nearby Jewish settlement of Netzarim Friday.
Palestinians denounce Israel's demolitions policy as collective punishment. Israel says it is aimed at deterring militant attacks in an uprising that erupted in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in September 2000.
Israel said the three buildings had been used for planning Friday's attack that killed three soldiers, two of them women.
Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, deplored the demolitions.
"Destroying property as a punitive measure is a clear violation of the rules of international law. Such actions are also counterproductive toward Israel's legitimate security concerns, for they foster further anger and despair among Palestinians," he said in a statement.Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian gunman near the Gush Katif settlement bloc, military sources said. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group from President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed the militant as its own.
Tit-for-tat violence has stalled a U.S.-backed "road map" to peaceful Palestinian statehood in the territories by 2005.
Sunday's demolitions, which according to Palestinian official left at least 156 families homeless, were not the first at Netzarim junction. In October 2000, Israeli troops razed twin residential towers there that saw intensive gunfights.
The demolished buildings had been part of a project to relieve overcrowding in nearby Gaza City. But Palestinian officials said people had never moved in because of constant Israeli gunfire and tank shelling in the area.
The Gaza operation began with the evacuation and demolition of a Palestinian police station. The army said one of the two militants who attacked Netzarim had taken shelter at the station. The other gunman was killed in the settlement raid.
Palestinian medics said one man was seriously wounded by gunfire from troops advancing toward the towers. Three people were hurt by flying debris when the buildings were destroyed."These Israeli provocations won't pass without a price," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a senior aide to Arafat. "(Demolitions) won't bring security and stability to the region."
Netzarim and other heavily guarded settlements, built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, have come under frequent attack during the uprising.
The army has faced international criticism in recent weeks for strikes against militants that have also killed civilians.
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