Israel Destroys $60 Million
Gaza Airport Runway

By Saud Abu Ramadan
United Press International

GAZA (UPI) - Israeli army armored vehicles and bulldozers early Friday destroyed the runway at the Gaza International Airport owned by the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian eyewitnesses and security sources reported.
The $60 million runway, which was built in 1999, had been used by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in flying to other parts of the world as recently as a few months ago, although the airport itself was shut down by Israel about 15 months ago when the intifada began.
The airport facility had been a source of pride for the Palestinians in providing access to the outside world.
Palestinian witnesses said about 21 vehicles drove into the Palestinian-controlled area east of Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday as Israel continued its campaign of retaliation for a Palestinian raid that killed four Israeli soldiers on Wednesday.
A militant wing of Hamas had claimed responsibility for the raid, in which two Palestinian militants also were killed, but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that his administration considers "the Palestinian Authority fully responsible for what happened."
The Palestinian Authority condemned the Hamas raid, saying, "It gives Sharon the excuse to resume his aggression and collective punishments on our people."
Palestinian eyewitnesses said more than 10 bulldozers tore up the 3.5-kilometer-long (2.2-mile-long) airport runway, beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday.
On Thursday, the Israeli army destroyed more than 70 Palestinian homes on the border between Rafah town and Egypt, leaving at least 120 families homeless, according to Palestinian residents and PA officials.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said Israeli forces destroyed buildings that had provided cover for attackers against Israeli troops. The IDF spokesman also said they suspected that the structures provided cover for tunnels used for arms smuggling.
Sharon said Wednesday that his government would reconsider its policy against the Palestinian Authority in light of Wednesday's attack and the capture of an estimated 50 tons of arms and explosives on a ship in the Red Sea last week.
The vessel, the Karine A, said to be owned by an Iraqi national, was seized by an Israeli boarding party Jan. 3. Its cargo included Katyusha rockets, mortar bombs, anti-tank weapons and C-4 explosives. Israel said the arms were meant for the Palestinian Authority, and fingered Iran as the supplier. Iran has denied that allegation.
Sharon has accused Arafat of being personally implicated in the smuggling plot.
Under the terms of various Middle East peace agreements, Palestinian security forces are only allowed light weapons, which the Israelis are supposed to supply them with.
Arafat has denied that he or the Palestinian Authority were involved in the ship smuggling incident. Arafat announced Monday that he was establishing a commission to investigate the Israeli allegations and urged the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations to join an international inquiry into the incident.
If evidence turned up involvement by a Palestinian official, that official would be prosecuted, Arafat said.
In interviews arranged Monday by the Israeli authorities, ship captain Omar Akawi, speaking from an Israeli prison, said he received the weapons off Iran's coast and was supposed to deliver them to smaller vessels off the Egyptian coast.
He said one of the men who loaded the deadly cargo was known to him as a member of the Lebanese Islamic guerrilla movement, Hezbollah. The United States has long said that Iran funds and arms Hezbollah.
Akawi, 44, identified himself as a longtime member of Arafat's own Fatah movement, and said he was acting under orders from a man he said was a Palestinian official.
Copyright © 2002 United Press International

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