IDF briefing on Rafah

IDF SPOKESPERSON ANNOUNCEMENT 5/24/04

The following is a summary of the briefing held today by the GOC southern command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, regarding the operation in Rafah.

On Wednesday, May 12, 2004, an IDF force traveling along the Israeli- Egyptian border came under heavy gunfire and anti tank missiles launched from Rafah.

An APC carrying IDF soldiers exploded and as a result five soldiers were killed.

During the two days after this incident, rescue teams were operating in the area of the incident in order to locate the bodies’ remains and to bring their friends for appropriate burial. During the whole operation the forces were under heavy fire from inside the houses. As a result of these guns fire, which came from 60-70 meters from the border and didn’t stop for a single moment, another two IDF soldiers were killed.

On Monday, May 17, 2004, the IDF began with a comprehensive operation in the city of Rafah aimed at targeting the terrorists, wanted operatives and to locate and dismantle weapon smuggling tunnels. The target of the operation was to secure the neighborhoods along the Philadelphi road and to make sure that they are clean from terrorists and wanted operatives.

The Rafah area is one of the most crowded, the streets are narrow and the houses are adjacent to one another. Simultaneously to the operation, a great stress was given to the humanitarian assistance in the form of repair of water and electricity infrastructures, a free movement of ambulances and supply of basic needs for the Palestinian population.

Achievements of the operation:

· The securing of the ability for operational activity along the border.

· 40 armed terrorists were killed, more then 100 armed terrorists were injured.

· The locating and dismantling of three weapon smuggling tunnels.

· Comprehensive arrests of wanted Palestinians, among them number of detainees who are still in investigation.

Clarifying of the casualties among civilians:

As to our knowledge, 14 innocent residents were killed during the operation:

· 8 were killed while the forces tried to deter a demonstration- a tank shell ricochet fired at a structure nearby the demonstration hit them. Among those were killed one armed terrorist.

· A brother and sister- killed apparently on their house’s roof. This incident is still under investigation.

· 2 youngsters, at the ages of 12 and 16, were killed by Palestinian terrorists while being called by the forced to come out of their house. The two were holding a white flag and were waving it and the terrorists shot them dead. IDF forces located the terrorists and killed them.

· A 13 years old boy and a 3 years old girl were killed in circumstances which are not yet known, perhaps from Israeli fire but also perhaps from Palestinian gunmen’s fire.

Demolition of houses:

During the operation, damage caused to structures in the city of Rafah. The investigation of the operating forces shows that approximately 56 structures were destroyed.

In addition, damage caused to roads after bulldozers were use to detonate explosive devices to ensure safe passage of the APCs. It is important to note that three Americans were killed as a result of a roadside bomb which was activated at their vehicle.

· 20 structures were demolished around the uncovered tunnels, this in order to prevent terrorists from opening fire and activating explosive devices against the operating forces in the spot for the uncovering and detonating of the tunnels. Explosive devices were uncovered by the forces near the shafts of the tunnels which were uncovered.

· In the neighborhood of Tel- Sultan, IDF forces demolished the house of the terrorist who murdered Tali Hatuel and her four daughters at the shooting attack on the Kissufim rout. Additional six structures were demolished.

· 29 structures were demolished in the other neighborhoods in which the forces were operating.

The fact that the terrorists where shooting from inside populated houses created a problem. We demolished houses when they were used by terrorists to attack the operating forces. We also needed to pass through narrow streets in armored vehicles which caused additional damage.

Humanitarian aid during the operation:

It is important to stress that a large effort was made in the rehabilitation of the water and electricity infrastructures and also in the assurance of movement of ambulances (a senior representative of the Red Cross organization in the Gaza Strip noted that there was no delay of ambulances during the operation).

Our fighting is not directed against the residents of Rafah. Unfortunately, the residents encounter to a confrontation with the terrorists, and the terrorists are using the residents’ houses for the terrorist activity, but no soldier or commander under my command hurt a resident intentionally.

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