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January 05, 2003

Amid Criticism, Israel Destroys 2 Gaza Buildings
GAZA CITY -- Israeli bulldozers destroyed at least two buildings in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, despite growing concern in the U.S. and elsewhere that a spate of house demolitions is only fueling the conflict with the Palestinians.

Palestinian witnesses said military bulldozers knocked down three large houses in the Rafah refugee camp, near the Egyptian border.

The army said it had demolished two abandoned buildings used by Palestinian gunmen to fire rockets and grenades at troops patrolling the border. Three Israelis were wounded in a rocket attack in the area Tuesday, the army said.

The United States on Friday joined a chorus of international criticism against Israel's policy of home demolitions, which have been denounced by Palestinians and human rights groups as "collective punishment."

"We recognize Israel's need to take legitimate anti-terrorist action," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "However, steps such as displacement of people through the demolition of homes and property exacerbate the humanitarian situation, and undermine trust and confidence."

Meanwhile Saturday, five soldiers and one Palestinian were wounded in the West Bank in a gunfight. The army said the five were fired upon while patrolling in Jenin. They returned fire, injuring one attacker.

But a Jenin resident disputed the army account. Omar Khalili said soldiers broke into his apartment at 3 a.m. and herded his family into a bedroom. While there, the troops were attacked by Palestinian gunmen.

The soldiers returned fire, and a bullet fragment struck a neighbor in the hand, he said. The neighbor was treated at a clinic and released.