Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles have demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes in one of the most destructive incidents in the Gaza Strip in recent years. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 2,197 people have already been made homeless and 191 homes razed throughout Gaza in the past few days. The worst affected area is Rafah, on the border between Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where 1,064 people lost their homes in 48 hours. More than 30 Palestinians have died and many others who are critically injured are unable to reach hospitals due to curfews and restrictions on movement imposed by Israeli forces. Christian Aid partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), obtained a temporary injunction against the bulldozing of Palestinian homes in Rafah. But the injunction was overturned by Israel's Supreme Court, which ruled that the army was entitled to carry out demolitions in self-defence. The Israeli army says it only demolished those houses from which Palestinians launched attacks. Palestinians were given little or no warning before their houses were flattened, and had no opportunity to gather their belongings. "Now UNRWA has the job of dealing with the human tragedy behind each demolition - the distressed children, the homeless families in need of basics like blankets food and water, and the communities shaken by the stress of ceaseless conflict," said Peter Hansen, UNRWA's Commissioner-General. "Israel is in grave breach of international humanitarian law and this collective punishment can do nothing to calm the situation in Gaza or enhance Israel's own security." Israel said it would intensify its military operations in Gaza hours after a peace rally on 15 May in Tel Aviv demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fulfil his plans to withdraw fully from the occupied territory. Under the slogan 'Leave Gaza, start talking', the 120,000-strong crowd reflected the public outcry in Israel after a week of bloodshed in which 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. The protest demanded Sharon keep his pledge despite losing a referendum on the issue in his Likud Party on 2 May. Recent incidents such as the killing of a Jewish settler and her four daughters by Palestinian militants may have hardened Likud voters against Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza. "[The house demolitions] will add more oil to the fire and will only increase people's frustration and socio-economic deterioration in the Gaza Strip," said Ahmed Sourani, director of Christian Aid partner PARC*. "But we must do our best by hearts and actions to show strong solidarity and real support to any effort that is made to build real peace and real development for all in the region." *Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) is a Christian Aid partner focusing on rural development, environmental protection, and strengthening women's position in society throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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