|Last Update: 16/05/2004 13:26|
Court rejects petition to prevent further Rafah demolitions
|By Yuval Yoaz and Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and Agencies|
The High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected a petition on behalf of 13 residents of the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, requesting a ban on further Israel Defense Forces demolitions of homes.
The Rafah residents' petition said the IDF planned to demolish houses in order to widen the Philadelphi Route, which demarcates the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday voiced American opposition to the demolitions, and called for an end to the current cycle of violence.
"We know that Israel has a right for self-defense but the kind of action they are taking in Rafah with the destruction of Palestinian homes, we oppose," Powell told a news conference in Jordan, where he met Saturday with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon told the cabinet Sunday that the army was planning to destroy hundreds more Palestinian houses.
"Hundreds of Palestinian houses along the Israel-Egypt border have been targeted for demolition," he said.
Ya'alon said the targeted houses were vacant, Israel Radio reported.
The three-member High Court panel said that the IDF was entitled to carry out such demolitions along the Philadelphi route for security reasons, "according to operational needs" or if the military determined that soldiers' lives were in danger.
Justices Eliahu Mazza, Dorit Beinisch and Eliezer Rivlin accepted the army's pledge that it would refrain from demolishing houses unnecessarily and would only raze homes in instances of an immediate military need to do so, if soldiers' lives were in danger or if the success of a military operation is in jeopardy.
The IDF will have to publish its intention to demolish houses that do not meet these conditions and give the residents the opportunity to have a court hearing against the demolitions.
Attorney Enar Helman, representing the state, told the court Sunday that the reality is that in 99 percent of the demolitions in the Rafah area, it is not possible to pre-warn the residents as Palestinians militants then booby-trap the homes slated for demolition.
A lawyer for the petitioners voiced hope the court's decision could ultimately limit the scope of destruction.
"We are sure that the army will think very carefully about destroying houses in the future. This is a clear decision that there are certain conditions in which houses can be demolished," attorney Yunes Tamim told reporters.
But Colonel Shuki Rinsky, a deputy IDF commander in Gaza, told reporters outside the court: "If there will continue to be a danger to soldiers, we will continue to destroy houses without giving prior warning."
Rinsky said such a policy would be in adherence to the court's decision.
Justice Mazza on Friday issued an interim order temporarily barring the IDF from demolishing homes in the refugee camp, if the action was not part of a regular military operation.
Over the weekend, the IDF conducted a mass demolition of buildings in the Rafah refugee camp, destroying as many as 88 homes and leaving more than 1,000 people homeless, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Saturday.
IDF armored bulldozers knocked down dozens of structures, trying to secure the area for soldiers searching for the body parts of five comrades killed in an attack Wednesday. The troops completed their search and withdrew from the area Saturday morning.
According to the IDF, all of the homes destroyed in Rafah over the past few days were demolished during battles with Palestinians, not as part of any plan to destroy houses.