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Israelis Demolish 3 Gaza Buildings

October 26, 2003|From Associated Press

GAZA CITY — Israeli forces blew up three large empty buildings in Gaza City -- allegedly used by militants as lookout points -- after evacuating 2,000 Palestinians from their homes early today.

The three unfinished 12-story buildings stood on a sandy hill overlooking the heavily guarded Jewish settlement of Netzarim, which two Palestinian gunmen infiltrated early Friday. The gunmen killed three Israeli soldiers, including two women. One of the gunmen escaped, and the other was shot and killed by soldiers.

The buildings belonged to the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Service, the main Palestinian force in Gaza. Israel said militants used the buildings as lookout points to help prepare the infiltration into Netzarim.

Before the blasts, Israeli soldiers ordered nearby residents in southern Gaza City out of their homes. The military said the evacuation was made to avoid harming civilians when the buildings were destroyed.

Mohammed Hassan Ali, 39, a father of five, said, "I can see dozens of people from the building leaving, mostly on foot. We don't know where to go."

Residents said soldiers told the people to move toward the Nusseirat refugee camp, about two miles away.

Maj. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said that it was a "temporary evacuation for their own safety" and that the residents later were permitted to return to their homes.

Before destroying the buildings, the Israelis blew up a Palestinian police station to which one attacker allegedly fled.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, masked Israeli troops raided two Palestinian hospitals Saturday, arresting two suspected militants -- one of them in critical condition -- in a commando-style operation that the army said would be replicated in other hospitals.

The troops, wearing black ski masks and carrying assault rifles, entered the hospitals in Nablus before dawn Saturday, snatching one militant from his hospital bed and finding a second hiding in a basement with a pistol in his hand, the army said.

One militant belongs to Hamas and the other to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a radical group with links to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah group.

Human rights groups and Palestinians condemned the raid, fearing that hospitals no longer are neutral ground and saying international law bans military operations in medical facilities.

The army countered that international law prohibited militants from seeking refuge in a hospital. The army has carried out four hospital raids in the last two months, including those Saturday, and army officials said they were planning more.

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