U.N. official: Rafah residents 'living in hell'

23 May 2004, CNN

Lionel Brisson, director of operation for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said his staff in Rafah described the situation as "very bad, very tense."

"Nobody can approach this area. The Palestinians in Rafah are living in hell," he said.

"The Israeli forces are occupying an UNRWA school with tanks," Brisson said. "The people are locked in their homes, hiding from the heavy fighting taking place between the Israeli forces and armed militants."


Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz vowed the offensive, dubbed Operation Rainbow, would continue for as long as possible, according to the Haaretz daily.

The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of trying to "depopulate" Rafah and called for international aid in stopping the Israeli military operation.

In a dispatch carried by the Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian leadership said, "Israel's goal is to destroy Rafah and depopulate it."

The Palestinian leadership "called on the U.N. Security Council, [Mideast] Quartet and the United States to immediately intervene and stop the ongoing massacre."

In a separate dispatch, the Palestinian Ministry of Health accused Israeli troops of blocking emergency crews from reaching the injured or removing the bodies of the dead.

President Bush also commented on the ongoing violence Tuesday.

"The unfolding violence in the Gaza Strip is troubling and underscores the need for all parties to seize every opportunity for peace," Bush told members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Despite international condemnation, Israel has destroyed numerous buildings in Rafah over the past week as Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensified.

The Israeli Supreme Court lifted a temporary injunction Sunday, allowing the Israeli military to continue demolishing Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a report that said the demolition and destruction in Gaza and the West Bank are "grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes."

"In the vast majority of cases, it's wanton destruction," said Donatella Rovera, from the Middle East program of the London-based human rights group and a co-author of the report, according to The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, there was fighting Tuesday on the West Bank.

Overnight, IDF forces operating in the city of Nablus identified a suspected member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade on a roof handling an explosive device. The troops opened fire at him.

Israeli forces were operating in the village of Anza, south of Jenin, to arrest a number of wanted Palestinians. One of those they came to arrest was armed and the forces opened fire and killed him, according to Israeli military sources. Another militant who was with him tried to escape in a car and crashed. He was arrested by the Israeli force and taken for medical treatment.

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