On Saturday morning, 15 May 2004, Israeli forces withdrew from Rafah refugee camp and other neighborhoods in the town. The Israeli incursion began last Thursday morning, 13 May 2004. The incursion left 14 Palestinian civilians dead, 30 others injured and caused massive destruction across the area.
According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR and testimonies provided by eyewitnesses, Israeli forces destroyed 80 houses, either by bulldozers or bombs, in Rafah. As a result, 880 people (195 families) have become homeless. These people join the hundreds of other families in the same area, whose houses have already been demolished. Israeli troops also destroyed at least 25 shops, a mosque, a number of civilian facilities and much of the civilian infrastructure. In a scene which was reminiscent of the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, thousands of civilians were forced to leave their homes.
Also in the past two days, Israeli forces killed 14 Palestinian civilians, including a child, and injured at least 30 others, the condition of some of these was described by medical sources as serious. These civilians cannot be transferred to other hospitals in the Gaza Strip or Israel due to the closures imposed by Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip. This closure is a restriction on the right to freedom of movement which is provided for by international human rights law.
PCHR strongly condemns these attacks perpetrated by Israeli forces in Rafah refugee camp, which have rendered hundreds of Palestinian families homeless. PCHR believes that continued failure by the international community to conform to their article 1 obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention encourages Israel to continue its policies against Palestinian civilian targets.
PCHR reminds the international community that Israeli forces continue to violate the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, particularly article 33 which prohibits collective penalties, and article 147 which considers extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, a grave breach of the Convention. Such destruction is also classified under article 35 para. 5, of Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as a war crime. These Israeli practices also violate article 11 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides that the States Parties to the Covenant “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”
In light of these grave breaches of the Geneva Convention: PCHR calls upon the United Nations bodies to immediately send missions to the area to see the impact of Israeli military activities and prevent recurrence of such crimes; PCHR calls upon the international community to contribute to the efforts made to provide homes for the affected families and to acknowledge and provide support for the status of Rafah as a civil emergency area; PCHR calls upon the international community to force Israel to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights law.