Israeli troops tore down part of a synagogue at a West Bank settlement outpost Tuesday but made no attempt to move adjacent trailer homes, prompting accusations the government isn’t serious about meeting U.S. demands to dismantle dozens of the outlawed sites.
Demolition on a far greater scale took place in the Gaza Strip, where army bulldozers smashed 25 houses and flattened a mosque in a Palestinian refugee camp, leaving 400 people homeless, local officials said.
The military said it targeted buildings from which shots were fired at Israeli forces but did not know how many structures were demolished.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli planes attacked two Hezbollah guerrilla bases in south Lebanon, the Israeli military said. There were no reports of casualties, Lebanese security officials said.
The evening airstrike followed a border incident Monday in which Hezbollah guerrillas fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli bulldozer clearing explosives, killing an Israeli soldier and seriously wounding another.
Resistance at Jewish outpost
At the West Bank outpost of Tapuah West, about 150 Jewish activists put up token resistance against hundreds of soldiers and riot police, burning tires and erecting flimsy barricades of stones on the road leading to the isolated hilltop.
It was the first move by the army to clear a structure from a populated outpost since June, when soldiers and police got into a bloody fistfight with settlers as they tried to dismantle shacks and tents at Mitzpeh Yitzhar, another West Bank outpost.
The wooden synagogue and study center at Tapuah West was dedicated to the memory and teachings of American-Israeli Meir Kahane, whose anti-Arab Kach movement is on the State Department list of terror organizations and has been outlawed as racist by the Israeli government.
Kahane was assassinated by an Egyptian in New York in 1990.
Supporters of the Kahane memorial project watched angrily as soldiers wrestled a large metal safe-like object onto the blade of an armored bulldozer.
They said the strongbox contained a Torah scroll, a hand-scripted copy of the Old Testament that is a holy object to Jews. The army could neither confirm nor deny that a Torah scroll was inside the box.
A man in a knitted skullcap who gave his name as Arieh wept as the bulldozer backed away. “When Jews take a Torah scroll from a synagogue, the state of Israel will fall apart,” he shouted.
Three soldiers were slightly injured and 14 settlers were arrested in scuffles at the scene, Army Radio reported.
Critics of Tuesday’s operation, which was played out before TV cameramen, photographers and reporters, said it was a meaningless display. After similar army raids in the past, settlers simply rebuilt demolished structures after soldiers left.
“You really need a microscope to see the differences before and after,” said Dror Etkes of Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlement expansion. “A few days later, everything is back in place.”
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered several outposts demolished. Under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, Israel is required to remove dozens of outposts, but so far has taken down only a few. The Palestinians also have failed to meet their first obligations, including a clampdown on militants.
Shortly before sundown Tuesday, most of the Jewish activists and the soldiers were gone, leaving the synagogue a skeleton with only a few uprights supporting its green, gabled roof. A police officer said demolition would be completed Wednesday.
In Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp, the pace was markedly different.
As the Israeli bulldozers went to work, frantic residents threw mattresses and blankets from second-floor windows as ceilings and walls come crashing down around them. One woman, standing just feet from a bulldozer, waved a white flag in a failed attempt to slow the demolition and salvage belongings. A crying girl helped her mother carry a mattress.
The governor of Rafah, Majed Agha, said about 400 people were made homeless Tuesday. Palestinian human rights workers said 17 houses were destroyed and another eight badly damaged. Agha initially put the number of demolished buildings at 30.
Israel has demolished hundreds of houses in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, in more than three years of fighting, saying the buildings gave cover to gunmen and weapons smugglers.
Also razed Tuesday was a neighborhood mosque, Al Tawhid, which had been partially demolished Saturday, residents said. The mosque is about 70 yards from an Israeli patrol road. “This is a crime against God’s law and human law as well,” said preacher Ibrahim Abu Jazar.
The military said it was still checking the report of the mosque demolition. In the past three years, troops have generally stayed clear of holy sites.