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Israel Threatens More Gaza Demolitions - 2004-05-16


Israel is threatening to step-up airstrikes and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, as part of a new crackdown triggered by the deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers. At least 32 Palestinians were also killed in last week's Gaza fighting.

Speaking to Israeli cabinet ministers today (Sunday), Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted as saying a different reality will be created in the southern Gaza Strip, where seven Israeli soldiers were killed.

General Moshe Yaalon told the cabinet that hundreds of houses near the Egyptian border have been targeted for destruction.

Details of the cabinet meeting first aired on Israeli radio shortly after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that homes in the Rafah refugee camp can be demolished -- if they present a security risk. Israel insists the targeted facilities either house militants or are used by militant groups in weapons smuggling operations.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington opposes the demolitions.

Mr. Powell said Israel's right to defend itself does not include the destruction of homes in Rafah, where observers say more than one thousand Palestinians were made homeless last week.

Mr. Powell also strongly criticized Yasser Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader's statements and actions make it difficult to move forward with the peace effort.

Saturday, Mr. Arafat marked the 56th anniversary of Israel's founding by urging Palestinians to terrorize their enemy, while also insisting that his people are committed to peace with Israel.

Late Saturday, more than 100,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to demand Israel immediately pull out of Gaza. The protest came at the end of a week that saw 13 Israeli soldiers and about 30 Palestinians killed in clashes in Gaza.

Information for this story is provided by AFP and Reuters.

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