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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Israeli operations bring 'wanton destruction'
Mother and daughter in Bethlehem
Mother and daughter venture out for bread
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By Tarik Kafala
BBC News Online

Ariel Sharon's stated objective for Israel's current operations in the West Bank is to "destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure".

But reports from inside the Israeli-occupied towns suggest that the civilian infrastructure - roads, water pipes and the electricity supply - is also being badly damaged, or destroyed, by the actions of the Israeli Defence Force.

There is no deliberate campaign to uproot civilian infrastructure

Israeli Government spokesman
Officials from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees have told the BBC that the agency's staff are reporting "wanton destruction" of Palestinian infrastructure across the West Bank.

There have also been reports of looting of food and personal items by Israeli soldiers carrying out house to house searches.

Bethlehem experience

Elaine Zubi has lived in Bethlehem for 12 years. She is an American married to a Palestinian, and mother of four.

If this goes on for a week we will get desperate

Elaine Zubi, Bethlehem resident
Her home is just south from the Church of the Nativity - she can see the church's steeple from her front window.

"The tanks came up our street on Tuesday. Right away, they ruined the water pipes at the top of the street and water has been running down ever since," she told BBC News Online.

"Another knocked down the electricity wires. We have no power. We still have water, but are using as little as possible because the water tank on the roof will run out. If this goes on for a week we will get desperate."

Elaine and her family are combining their food and water supplies with those of two other families who share the building.

"Yesterday, when the tanks moved off, my husband went across the road to give some groceries to some people who had run out. The tanks came back, and I thought he'd be sleeping over there, but he got back after dark."

I've seen tanks roll straight over cars and destroy walls for no apparent reason. Many homes and buildings are shot through with bullet and shell holes

Adam Shapiro, US citizen in Ramallah
News that the curfew is being temporarily lifted keeps filtering through, Elaine says. The US consul had called various US nationals in the city to tell them that the curfew was being lifted on Friday morning, but when they ventured onto their balconies they were ordered indoors by Israeli soldiers.

"We have a ton of tanks and armoured personnel carriers right outside out house now. I don't know how safe it will be to go out even if a break in the curfew comes through," she said.

Adam Shapiro, a US national and a worker with the International Solidarity Movement, spoke to the BBC from Ramallah:

"I've seen tanks roll straight over cars and destroy walls for no apparent reason. Many homes and building are shot through with bullet and shell holes," he said.

Difficulty of verification

The Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, says there are widespread reports of this sort of damage, but that the organisation cannot formally verify them because their field workers are not being allowed into the occupied areas.

The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world, we never harm unarmed people unless accidentally

Itsik Avichatsira, former IDF Sergeant in the Golani Brigade

"We do have confirmed reports of Red Crescent ambulances not being allowed to pick up the wounded from the streets and of a private hospital being shelled," B'Tselem spokesman Leore Yavne said.

BBC News Online was contacted by Itsik Avichatsira - a former IDF sergeant in the Golani Brigade who served in Hebron and Lebanon.

"The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world, we never harm unarmed people unless accidentally, and immediately the army publicise an apology," he said.

Asked about reports of soldiers causing damage not related to the stated military objectives of "destroying the terrorist infrastructure", he said soldiers never do anything they are not ordered to do.

"They may have cut the electricity in order to carry out operations in the dark. If there are reports of water pipes and tanks being destroyed, I can only believe this was done by accident," Itsik said.

The director of the Israeli Government press office, Danny Seaman, told BBC News Online that if any damage was being done to Palestinian civilian infrastructure, it was not deliberate.

"There is no deliberate campaign to uproot civilian infrastructure. Such reports are part of Palestinian disinformation and propaganda and the international observers and journalists who are reporting this lack experience. Combat is not an easy thing," Mr Seaman said.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Bethlehem
"The curfew was lifted temporarily"
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