Two days after the temporary halt of the IOF’s latest operation in the Gaza Strip in which over 100 homes in Rafah were demolished, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says IOF will escalate its activities in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the area of the Rafah-Egypt boarder-line. Israeli army Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon confirmed that the IOF plans to demolish hundreds of Palestinian houses along the Rafah-Egypt border. Human rights organizations, UN and several international organizations asserted that such intentional demolition constitutes grave breaches to Humanitarian Law and crimes of war.
Following a petition made by residents of Rafah through the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Israeli High Court rejected the petition in its decision No. 4585, dated 16 May 2004, to halt the Israeli Government decision to demolish hundreds of homes in Rafah. The Court’s ruling authorized the IOF to proceed to house demolitions if necessary, and requested that owners be notified when possible. The wording of this decision therefore leaves much room for action and interpretation by the IOF, as the notion of “military necessity” can, in all instances, be used as justification for demolition by the IOF.
IOF announced a wide-scale operation in Rafah to start today, Monday 17 May 2004. Israeli spokesmen announced that the IOF plan to isolate the town and launch an operation to arrest so-called Palestinian “suspects” and destroy tunnels. It should be mentioned that similar operations have previously always involved wide-ranging home demolitions and the use of tanks and air force against civilians.
As a result, hundreds of Rafah residents were seen removing their belongings and fleeing their houses today, Monday 17 May 2004, after the Israeli High Court decision to reject the petition of human rights organizations and residents to ban home demolitions in the town and refugee camp.
UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, announced today that 2,200 Palestinians have been made homeless in Rafah since the beginning of May 2004. According to the documentation of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the IOF has demolished 5,013 homes in the Gaza Strip since September 2000, 2,200 of which are in Rafah. In total, over 39,000 people were left homeless, about half of which are from the town of Rafah.
The Israeli Forces started its operation at approximately 1pm, by closing the only street between Rafah and Khan Yunis and thus isolating the town of Rafah from the rest of the Gaza Strip. Earlier the same day, Israeli apaches had fired at this area.
A report prepared by the United States State Department affirms that the repeated use of excessive force by the Israeli army leads to many Palestinian deaths and injury.
IOF’s closure of Rafah obstructs ICRC relief aid to Rafah. Trucks of food, tents, and medicine was not allowed to pass through the Israeli checkpoint and was forced to use an unpaved branch road and was stuck in the sand. The convoy waited between 1 pm and 7:30 pm before IOF allowed them to take the branch road. The Palestinian Ministry of Health’s convoy was also made to use the same way after long hours of waiting.
Manager of Rafah’s only hospital says they lack equipment and medicine. This hospital is not designed to receive cases of delivery and serious cases. The number of deaths is expected to increase, as a result.
The IOF closure of Rafah also obstructs ICRC relief aid to Rafah. Trucks of food, tents, and medicine have not been allowed to pass through the Israeli checkpoint. The convoy waited from 1 pm to 7:30 pm before the IOF allowed it to take an unpaved branch road where certain vehicles got stranded. The Palestinian Ministry of Health’s convoy was also forced to use the same way after long hours of waiting.
The manager of Rafah’s only hospital has announced that they lack equipment and medicine to deal with the increasing number of victims. The hospital is not designed to receive cases of delivery and serious cases, which are usually referred to other hospital outside the town. As a result, the number of fatalities may yet further increase due to lack of sufficient medical support.