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Israeli Troops Continue to Demolish Palestinian Homes Near Jewish Settlement in Gaza - 2004-05-10


Israeli troops have demolished more than a dozen Palestinian homes along a Gaza Strip road near one of the Jewish settlement blocks in the area. The action came after Palestinian gunmen attacked settlers during a memorial service Sunday for a family killed by Palestinian militants last week.

The seemingly endless cycle of violence certainly impacts every day life there, yet the settlers are adamant about staying on.

Teen-agers playing basketball at a local community center, a familiar scene anywhere in the world. But these are Israeli teenagers in the middle of Gaza.

Fifteen-year-old Havashe is among them. She was born here and says life is just normal. ?It's like any place. All the country is like this,? she said.

Havashe's afternoons at the community center may be appear normal, but appearances can be deceptive. This is the Gush Katif settlement block, and the youngsters here are among nearly eight thousand Israeli settlers who live in communities throughout the Gaza Strip, surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians who don't want them there.

The rows of houses with red-tiled roofs set neatly among the sand dunes could be a community anywhere in the Mediterranean. There are shops, and greenhouses for growing vegetables and flowers, which are sold for export. There are schools, community centers and there's even a small zoo.

But, there are also signs that something is amiss. The communities are surrounded by barbed wire and concrete barricades and guarded around the clock by Israeli soldiers.

The regional council office has a 24-hour emergency operations center.

Eva is one of the people taking calls from settlers or soldiers, whoever calls in a problem. She was on duty last week when news came in that Palestinian gunmen had ambushed a car along the Kissufim road and killed 34-year old Tali Khatuel and her four daughters.

?What I heard was that there was a shooting there and terrorists go into the car and shoot and we start work, send ambulances, and my boss to go there and the army there,? she said.

Eva was also on duty two years ago when the call came in that her husband had been shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen.

The Gaza settlements come under frequent mortar and sniper attacks from Palestinian militants, who see the settlers as illegal intruders taking Palestinian land. Palestinians justify the attacks as part of their ongoing fight against Israeli occupation. The settlers say it's pure terrorism that must be fought at all cost. And, the costs are often high.

In the days following the killing of Tali Khatuel, mourners gathered at the Khatuel family home to offer support. Tali's sisters and mother talk about her love for the community and they demand justice.

Soldiers killed two Palestinian gunmen who ambushed Tali Khatuel's car. But, weeks later as mourners gathered again at the site of the attack, Palestinian militants opened fire on them sending families scrambling for cover.

There are signs the Israeli government sees the settlements increasingly as a liability, difficult to defend and a drain on the budget. And, recent opinion polls show the majority of Israelis favor dismantling them.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed withdrawing from all the Gaza settlements, along with a few in the West Bank. But, the plan was defeated in a referendum within his own Likud Party, in large part due to a campaign mounted by the settlers and their supporters.

Mr. Sharon is adamant. He says he will go ahead with some sort of withdrawal plan. The settlers here in Gush Katif are just as adamant that they will not move.

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