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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
'I have lost everything'
A Palestinian woman among the rubble of a destroyed house in Rafa, 15 May 2004
The UN says 1,000 Palestinians have been made homeless
Israeli troops have destroyed dozens of homes in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. Israeli restrictions are making it hard to reach the area, but the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston has been contacting people there on their mobile phones.

The house off Salahudeen Street was home to S'ham Abu Libdeh. She lived in it for nearly 40 years, and she raised her seven children there. I spoke to her as she picked her way through the rubble that is now all that is left of her house.

Mrs Abu Libdeh said there was no warning that the bulldozers were coming.

"The Israelis gave us no time," she said. "They were shooting. We ran with nothing."

All she could grab were the children. And as they ran, she held up her headscarf like a white flag.

But it was not until the morning that she knew for sure that she had surrendered her home. When she woke up in the schoolyard where she had slept she was told that her house had been destroyed.

Poorest of the poor

As Mrs Abu Libdeh spoke from its ruins she nearly wept with rage and despair, and twice, in the distance, there were bursts of gunfire.

"My sons and I are trying to salvage timber, but there's nothing here," Mrs Abu Libdeh said. "We are crying here. The scene is incredible.

"People are shocked. There's nothing left of their homes. Everything is buried in the rubble."

I have lost everything - I have less than nothing
S'ham Abu Libdeh
Mrs Abu Libdeh's smashed neighbourhood was known in the Rafah refugee camp as Block O. It fronts on to the corridor of land that is controlled by Israeli troops as they patrol between the town and the Egyptian border, which is less than 1km away.

Israeli troops often demolish homes along that southern edge of Rafah as they search for tunnels that the fighters use to smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

The people who live there are the poorest of the poor. Few would chose to stay on Rafah's frontline streets if they could afford better.

And now, what little Mrs Abu Libdeh has - 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,412), and some jewellery - is buried beneath all that rubble. She is destitute.

"I have lost everything. I have less than nothing. I'm living on the street," she said.

The Israeli army says it only demolished those houses from which Palestinian fighters launched attacks.

But Mrs Abu Libdeh denies that the gunmen used her home.

"From our house, nobody attacked the Israelis," she said.

It so happens that the day Mrs Abu Libdeh found her home in ruins - 15 May - is for Palestinians the saddest day of the year. It is the day on which refugee families mark the loss of their homes in what is now Israel.

"The Catastrophe", they call it.

Right now, Mrs Abu Libdeh is dealing with a whole new catastrophe.

Israel and the Palestinians



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