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 Monday, 2 December, 2002, 22:53 GMT
Israel denies targeting food aid
Palestinians search through rubble of destroyed building in Beit Lahiya
The army razed buildings in the search for militants
The Israeli army (IDF) has become embroiled in a dispute with the United Nations after it destroyed a building containing hundreds of tons of food aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli Defence Force spokeswoman told BBC News Online that Palestinian militants were hiding on the second and third floors and troops did not know the building contained World Food Programme (WFP) supplies.

The EC will formally protest this unjustified destruction by the Israeli army

Jean Breteche, European Commission

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a statement that he was "extremely concerned" at the destruction of the depot and supported WFP calls for the Israeli Government to conduct a full investigation into the incident.

"The secretary general once again calls on the Israeli authorities to live up to their commitments and obligations to facilitate emergency humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory," the statement added.

The head of the European Commission (EC) in Jerusalem, Jean Breteche, called the army's action "unjustified".

Building searched

In continuing violence, three Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops, while a fourth died when a missile fired by Palestinian militants fell short of its target, according to some Palestinian reports.

Israel on Monday announced plans to demolish buildings claimed by Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The army said it had obtained a warrant to destroy the buildings to create a safe passage for Jews between a nearby Jewish settlement and Jewish enclaves inside Hebron.

According to WFP officials, Israeli troops and dogs entered and searched the three-storey warehouse in the town of Beit Lahiya on Saturday night.

The BBC's correspondent in Gaza, James Rodgers, said witnesses described seeing dynamite being laid and then a series of explosions destroyed the warehouse.

Our correspondent said two Palestinians were killed and three buildings demolished in the raid.

'Food clearly marked'

An Israeli army spokeswoman said "we are still investigating the circumstances of why the warehouse was hit".

WFP should have been permitted to remove the food. This act has been carried out against basic humanitarian principles

WFP local director Jean-Luc Siblot

The AFP news agency quoted Palestinian sources as saying a militant from the radical Islamic Jihad group wanted by Israel in connection with a suicide bombing was sheltering in the building when it was blown up.

The army spokeswoman said Israeli liaison officers based in the Gaza Strip had not been made aware of the warehouse's existence, nor warned that they should avoid it.

The WFP said the building was clearly marked with a UN flag, and the food containers were labelled with WFP stickers.

They said the store contained 500 metric tons of flour, rice and vegetable oil, intended for distribution to the poorest families in Gaza to celebrate the forthcoming Muslim feast of Eid.

The food, donated by the European Commission, was valued at more than $270,000.

"WFP should have been permitted to remove the food. This act has been carried out against basic humanitarian principles," local programme director Jean-Luc Siblot said in a statement.

Demolition plan

In the latest violence, a Palestinian worker died and nine others were wounded when militants mis-fired a home-made Qassam rocket near the Erez crossing point between Gaza and Israel.

Palestinian medical sources said the wounded men were hit by the rocket, while it is unclear whether the rocket also killed the man.

Israel settlers and soldiers in Hebron
Settlers have called for increased security

Palestinian officials said Israeli troops opened fire on the group but Israeli sources denied this.

Earlier, a Palestinian militant was shot dead trying to infiltrate the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the northern Gaza strip.

There was more bloodshed in the West Bank, where a Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in Tulkarm, according to Palestinian sources.

In the divided West Bank city of Hebron, the Israeli army said it had issued a demolition order for 15 buildings.

The move came two weeks after 12 Israeli soldiers and security officials were killed in an ambush by Palestinian militants along a route known as Worshippers' Way.

Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to create "territorial continuity" between Kiryat Arba and Hebron, where 450 settlers live among some 130,000 Palestinians.

The army said the condemned buildings have been empty for 20 years and were not "Palestinian homes".

Palestinian officials denounced the move, saying the buildings housed 30 families.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the plan, calling it a "Judaisation process" in Hebron.


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"A violent day in a week of escalating violence"

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16 Nov 02 | issues
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