UNRWA: 45 Homes Razed in Rafah During Operation Rainbow

U.S. Ambassdor Kurtzer shown IDF footage of 'Operation Rainbow' in southern Gaza, updated on medical services provided for residents.

Israel Defense Forces troops destroyed 45 buildings during its six-day operation in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip - making 575 people homeless - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Tuesday.

Human rights groups initially estimated that the army had demolished 180 buildings in the Rafah camp, a militant stronghold.

UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees in the territories, also said that the IDF had destroyed a total of 155 buildings in Rafah over the past month, leaving 1,960 people homeless. It described the period as one of the most destructive in Rafah since a Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

The IDF said its forces destroyed or badly damaged 56 "structures" in Rafah, including homes, warehouses and gunmen's posts, in the latest raids.

It said the destruction occurred when troops blew up tunnels used by militants to smuggle weapons across the border from Egypt, exchanged fire with gunmen or needed to clear a way around mined roads and boobytraps.

U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer was updated by IDF officials at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Tuesday on the humanitarian aid provided by Israel to residents of Rafah during Operation Rainbow.

Home Front Commander Major General Yossef Mishlav screened films of army operations in Rafah for Kurtzer. He also provided the American ambassador with information on medical services provided to Rafah residents and on the entry of Palestinian ambulances into areas in which gun battles were taking place.

Soldiers hurt Two IDF soldiers from the Givati Brigade were lightly wounded Tuesday morning when Palestinian militants fired an anti-tank rocket at their position near the Kfar Darom settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Troops at the scene returned fire. The two wounded soldiers were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.

An Israeli man sustained light wounds early Tuesday afternoon when a bomb was thrown at his vehicle near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The man was evacuated to nearby Kiryat Arba for medical attention.

Pullout complete IDF troops completed their pullout from the southern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah on Monday night, but military officials warned their mission was not fulfilled.

The last of the IDF troops pulled out of the Kishta neighborhood Monday night, where they had been searching for an arms-smuggling tunnel. Earlier in the day, troops left the Tel Sultan and Brazil neighborhoods, lifted the siege north of Rafah and renewed traffic flow to other parts of the Strip.

While withdrawing their forces, military officials warned that their mission was not fulfilled, indicating they may send forces back into the camp soon. Even after the pullout, several tanks and bulldozers lay poised on the edge of the camp.

"The efforts will continue, with no time limit, as long as Israelis are threatened by terrorism," said Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as the pullout was completed. Mofaz admitted Sunday that Israel had still not been able to completely block weapons-smuggling routes in Rafah.

Speaking at a Tel Aviv ceremony for the security industry Monday night, Mofaz also said it was Palestinian terror organizations, not the IDF, that bore responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, Israel Radio reported.

Mofaz said innocent people were hurt because the terrorists chose to operate in a dense population center, according to the report.

Palestinians said Monday night the IDF has shut down the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Itim news agency reported.

The main focus of the operation, the biggest Israeli sweep in Gaza in years, was to counter Palestinian arms smuggling through tunnels under the Egyptian border. Israel said it discovered three tunnels during the raid, but a senior IDF commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were about 10 tunnels altogether.

IDF Gaza division commander Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai said Monday the army killed 41 terrorists and demolished 56 Palestinian homes during Operation Rainbow in Rafah, which began seven days ago.

Because of severe discrepancies about the numbers of houses that were demolished, the army has started an inquiry. The army was saying over the weekend that only five houses were demolished, but that number climbed to 12 by Sunday - and still was far from the number of houses that Palestinians and journalists visiting the scene said were destroyed or damaged beyond use by tanks and armor moving through the neighborhoods.

In an interview with Ynet on Sunday morning, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said he knew of 12 houses that had been demolished. By Monday night, Zakai was talking about 56 demolished houses, basing his report on aerial photos and reports by commanders in the field.

"We killed 41 terrorists, we pinpointed and destroyed three [weapons-smuggling] tunnels and another opening that was used for preparing tunnels. We also arrested terror operatives connected to construction of the tunnels," Zakai told reporters. The division commander said some of the homes were demolished by gunfire and others with the use of explosive charges.

Some structures were destroyed when troops passed through them rather than moving over roads mined with explosives. Other buildings destroyed included those belonging to terrorists, including the man responsible for the murder of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters on the Kissufim road in Gaza at the beginning of the month.

Zakai said 12 unarmed Palestinian civilians were killed during the course of Operation Rainbow, including seven killed by a tank shell during a demonstration in the Tel Sultan neighborhood last Wednesday.

He said the investigation into that incident has not yet been completed, but it appears as if the tank commander who fired a shell at the abandoned structure did not see the nearby demonstration.

"We did not use the tank shell in order to disperse the demonstration but rather to create a boom effect," Zakai said. "To the best of my professional judgement, the tank commander's decision was correct."

Regarding the other civilians killed during the operation, Zakai said it has not been determined they were killed by IDF gunfire. He said that in at least one of the incidents, Israeli soldiers spotted terrorists who were shooting at civilians.

Palestinian human rights workers dispute the IDF's estimates, saying that just 12 of those killed in Rafah were known to have been armed.

Zakai rejected claims there is a humanitarian crisis in Rafah.

"One of the considerations we were directed to take was to allow the passage of food and medications, and to allow the repair of water, electricity and sewage infrastructure," he said.

Gaza District Coordinating Office Commander Yoav Mordechai was quoted Monday by Israel Radio as saying the IDF enabled Palestinians to receive food and medical equipment, and has fixed the water and electricity infrastructure in Rafah. He added that Palestinians had dug arms-smuggling tunnels inside mosques and schools and under children's beds in private homes.

The IDF says it has detained 100 Palestinians during the current operation. Of these, it says 10 were taken for questioning.