This afternoon, the IDF shot tank shells in an effort to disperse a protest demonstration. One of the shells hit the demonstrators, killing at least eight of them and injured many more. According to reports in the press, most of the dead are children.
In the wake of this shelling, the army must completely halt all military operations in the Rafah area.
B’Tselem issued a press release calling on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz to immediately order IDF forces to leave Rafah.
Family Flees as Home Demolished
Early yesterday morning, IDF snipers took up positions on the roofs of houses adjacent to the home of the Hasuna family in the Tel a-Sultan neighborhood in Rafah.
Around 9:30 AM, an IDF bulldozer began demolishing the family’s house without warning. Khaider Hasuna told B’Tselem: “They started demolishing the room that we were sitting in. My wife and I were screaming and our children were terrified. We took the children and went out to the yard. I saw a tank about twenty meters east of my house. The tank began to open fire rapidly toward the house.”
Hasuna and his family ran back into their house, and hid in the bathroom. Several minutes later, they ventured out again, climbed a ladder and jumped over the fence around the house and ran to the house of their neighbor, the al-Bardawil family, where they have been staying since.
License to Demolition
The IDF reportedly plans to demolish hundreds of additional houses in the Rafah Refugee Camp in order to widen the “Philadelphi Route” along the Gaza-Egypt border, thereby preventing the smuggling of weapons through tunnels dug under the route. The IDF has now asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to legally sanction these plans for widespread demolitions. Tomorrow (20 May, 2004), Mazuz will convene a consultation with senior officials from the Justice Ministry and the Military Judge Advocate General’s Office regarding this issue. Last night, B’Tselem sent an urgent request to Mazuz to categorically reject the IDF’s proposal, as it constitutes a severe violation of international humanitarian law.
Israel, as the occupying force in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is obliged by international humanitarian law to protect the local population and ensure its safety and welfare. The plan violates three basic principles of international humanitarian law: The prohibition on destroying civilian property in occupied territory unless there is absolute military necessity, the principle of proportionality, and the prohibition on collective punishment.
Write Attorney General Menachem Mazuz (fax: +972-2-6274481), and Justice Minister Yosef Lapid (fax +972-2-6285438), and add your voice to those opposing the demolitions of houses belonging to innocent civilians. Send your fax as soon as possible, as the decision may be made shortly following tomorrow’s meeting.