22 January 2004 Condemning a week of Israeli house demolitions in Gaza, the main United Nations agency helping Palestine refugees appealed today to the international community for new funds to build shelters for nearly 600 people left homeless in the town and refugee camp of Rafah, in the south of the strip.
"Any humanitarian looking at the sheer number of innocent civilians who have lost their homes can only condemn Israel's house demolition policy as a hugely disproportionate military response by an occupation army," Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said.
"The nearly 15,000 people whose homes and possessions have been ground into the sand by Israel's bulldozers can hardly be blamed if they have come to believe that they are the victims of collective punishment," he added, referring to the total number of those left homeless by Israeli actions in Gaza since the start of the most recent strife more than three years ago.
"It is a policy that creates only hardship and bitterness, and in the end can only undermine hope for future reconciliation and peace," Mr. Hansen said.
The new demolitions by Israeli military bulldozers, which have left 584 people homeless since 16 January, have exacerbated the severe humanitarian crisis in Rafah, where 9,970 people have now lost their homes since October 2000, UNRWA said. The latest assault saw a 31-year old Palestinian woman killed and eight others injured.
Before the latest round of demolitions UNRWA estimated that it would cost $30 million to re-house all the refugees who have lost their homes. The agency has built 228 replacement shelters in Gaza and has a further 300 under construction.