Israel sends in its death squads and more bulldozers

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The Independent Online

Israel's Government, undeterred by a barrage of criticism for illegal destruction of scores of homes inhabited by Gaza refugees, dispatched its bulldozers on another wrecking mission, this time to flatten Arab houses in occupied east Jerusalem.

As the giant machines reduced to dust the dreams of more Palestinian families on a scrubby hillside below Mount Scopus, Israel's death squads notched up another killing of a militant in the northern West Bank. Raed-al-Karmi, from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was killed in a bomb blast outside his West Bank hide-out. Guerrillas from his group struck back soon afterwards, killing one Israeli and wounding another in a roadside shooting near a West Bank settlement.

The destruction of nine homes in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Issawiyeh yesterday was done on the orders of Jerusalem's municipal authorities. But all demolition orders pass through Israel's Ministry of Interior – which supplied scores of armed border police to supervise the wrecking mission – and through the office of the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

He declined to intervene, defying Israeli liberals who have condemned his role in last week's destruction of 60 homes in Rafah, southern Gaza, which made hundreds of poverty-stricken Palestinians homeless at the height of winter.

Yesterday's demolitions were committed, as is usually the case, on the official pretext that the homes were built without permits, which are routinely denied to Palestinians wanting to build in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israeli in 1967 and later illegally annexed. It was part of Israel's long-term strategy of limiting the number of Arabs in the city, who make up about 30 per cent of the 600,000 population.

The destroyed houses overlook a bypass road being built to connect Israeli settlements on Jerusalem's eastern flank, part of a matrix of Jewish suburbs built to give Israel control over the metropolis.

Unlike the smashed homes in Gaza, most of the houses flattened yesterday were unoccupied. This did nothing to assuage the misery of Basim Ellayan, 43, a financial consultant who sank his $50,000 (£35,000) savings into building a family home, now in ruins. "I worked more than 20 years to collect the money for this house," he said yesterday, as he stood by the wreckage. "Then they come and destroy everything in a minute."

Anger among Palestinians of Jerusalem was deeper still in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, where crowds screaming, "Revenge" took to the streets to follow a stretcher carrying the corpse of a fugitive militia leader, killed by a bomb hidden in a wall close to his hide-out.

Israel refused to confirm that its forces assassinated Mr Karmi, 28, a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a paramilitary group affiliated with the mainstream Fatah organisation. But it had all the hallmarks. He was high on Israel's wanted list, and had openly boasted of killing Israelis.

The Israeli government issued a statement saying he was responsible for numerous attacks, including the murder of two Tel Aviv restaurateurs last year. The army has tried to kill him before: in September, he narrowly escaped when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at his car, killing two fellow guerrillas.

His killing blew another hole in Mr Arafat's ceasefire order, issued a month ago. An al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades statement said last night: "The hoax of the so-called ceasefire is cancelled, cancelled, cancelled." Then came the fatal shooting of an Israeli near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron.

That supplied Mr Sharon with another reason to press ahead with his long campaign to corrode Palestinian claims to built a nation in all of the West Bank and Gaza; to present Mr Arafat as a weapons-smuggling Iranian-allied terrorist leader; and steadily to consolidate Israel's hold on the lion's share of the occupied territories.

At least 804 Palestinians and 239 Israelis have been killed since the uprising began 15 months ago.