Israeli officals play down demolitions

Two senior Israeli officials say the number of homes destroyed by occupation forces in the southern Gaza Strip is being exaggerated.

    A Rafah mother sits in what is left of her home on Tuesday

    Deputy PM Ehud Olmert and Israel's ambassador to the US, Daniel Ayalon, went so far as to accuse some Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp of damaging or demolishing their own houses.

    They both alleged the military's assault on the Rafah refugee camp that killed 19 people on Tuesday was being distorted to engender sympathy for the Palestinians.

    When asked about reports from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that say nearly 2200 Palestinians have been made homeless in May, Olmert replied: "I suggest that there be a very careful attitude to the numbers." 

    Speaking to reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the State Department, Olmert maintained Israel's operations in Rafah were not intended to destroy homes.
    Ayalon went further, saying that at least 30 Palestinian homes had been deliberately destroyed by their owners in the last day to help in compensation claims.
    Asked why Palestinian homeowners would destroy their own property, Ayalon replied: "Maybe they are painting, I don't know, or wanted to do some renovations and this is a good way to do it." 

    "Maybe they are painting, I don't know, or wanted to do some renovations and this is a good way to do it"

    Israel's ambassador to US explains "why Palestinians are destroying their own homes"

    He and Olmert said the aim of the Rafah operation was to close off and destroy tunnels used to smuggle weapons to Palestinian resistance under the adjacent border with Egypt.
    "We are not destroying homes," Olmert said, repeating Israel's oft-stated rationale for the action. "Homes are damaged when they host tunnels which are serving the terrorists for smuggling arms." 

    "It may happen that buildings will be damaged in the course of action but there is no purpose, there is no plan and no intention of demolishing houses in any great number," he said.
    The destruction of homes in Rafah drew near universal condemnation and rare rebukes from the United States.

    Both Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice criticized the demolitions; US President George Bush said on Tuesday the renewed violence in Gaza was "troubling."
    But Olmert said he had heard no "complaints" about the Israeli operation from Powell, who he maintained had simply expressed "interest" in the situation in Rafah. 



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