The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip plans to raze another 180 Palestinian houses, on top of the 20 it recently demolished in the southern town of Rafah, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights charged on Thursday.
The 20 houses already destroyed were home to some 150 people, who are now homeless and living in tents, the organization said.
The government said it razed the houses because they were built illegally on government land. The organization said that Hamas plans to use the same pretext to demolish houses in Khan Yunis and other towns.
Most of these houses' inhabitants are poor, the organization said, and several saw their previous houses demolished during the years of fighting with Israel.
Palestinians sources told Haaretz that the area in question, comprising around 200 dunams (some 50 acres ), had been given by the Hamas government to a charitable organization called Fadila so that it could build a religious study center there comprising a school, a college and a mosque. But when Fadila sought to begin construction, it discovered that dozens of houses had been built on the site. In most cases, these houses were built by owners whose original homes had been destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Fadila applied to the Hamas government, which asked the residents to leave. When they refused, saying they had nowhere to go, the government went to court, and the court ordered them to leave. The government then began razing the houses.
Hamas halted the demolitions after they sparked outrage among ordinary Gazans and the Palestinian media. But the Palestinian Center for Human Rights fears they are slated to resume soon.
This is not the first move Hamas has made recently that sparked an outcry in Gaza. Another was its decision to impose a hefty tax on the cigarettes that are smuggled in from Egypt via tunnels, and which until then were very cheap. It has also imposed taxes on various other products smuggled through the tunnels, as well as on market stalls and all shops that sell produce by weight.
The taxes are meant to improve the Hamas government's financial plight. Its revenues have recently declined, due to the international community's efforts to crack down on fund transfers to Hamas from overseas banks, especially in Europe. In addition, less cash is being smuggled in via the tunnels, due to Egypt's crackdown on the cross-border smuggling business.
Last month, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine even warned of a popular uprising against the new decrees - or in other words, an intifada.