23 January 2004
UNRWA Condemns a Week of Israeli House Demolitions in Rafah
(Reissued as received.)
GAZA, 22 January (UNRWA) -- A series of Israeli military incursions into the Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza since 16 January has left 584 people homeless in the town and refugee camp of Rafah in the south of the strip. The fresh demolitions, carried out by Israeli military bulldozers, have added to the severe humanitarian crisis in Rafah, where a total of 9,970 people have now lost their homes since October 2000. In the Gaza Strip as a whole, 14,852 people have been made homeless by Israeli actions since the start of the strife.
The current wave of incursions began on 16 January when 17 buildings, home to 170 people, were demolished. In the night and morning of 20 January, a fresh assault saw a further 36 homes destroyed, leaving 414 people homeless. At 0500 hours local time on 22 January, a third incursion ended, leaving behind another four demolished homes. The total, for the whole of January so far, is 72 buildings demolished in Rafah.
The latest assault saw a 31-year old Palestinian woman killed and eight others injured.
The demolitions have hit both refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and non-refugee Palestinians. UNRWA relief teams, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations, are providing assistance with shelter, blankets, food and water to all of the homeless.
Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UNRWA, condemned the latest demolitions: Any humanitarian looking at the sheer number of innocent civilians who have lost their homes can only condemn Israels house demolition policy as a hugely disproportionate military response by an occupation army. The nearly 15,000 people whose homes and possessions have been grounded into the sand by Israels bulldozers can hardly be blamed if they have come to believe that they are the victims of collective punishment. It is a policy that creates only hardship and bitterness, and in the end can only undermine hope for future reconciliation and peace.
The UNRWA has issued an appeal to the international donor community for funds to allow it to build new shelters for homeless refugees in Gaza. Before the latest round of demolitions, UNRWA estimated that it would cost $30 million to rehouse all the refugees who have lost their homes. The UNRWA has built 228 replacement shelters in Gaza and has a further 300 under construction.
For more information, call Paul McCann, tel. +972 59 428 008.
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