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Source: United States of America
19 May 2004



U.S. Opposed to Home Demolitions in Gaza, Says Boucher

Calls on Israel, Palestinians, Egypt to work together in border area

The Bush administration is troubled by the violence occurring in Gaza and opposes Israel's destruction of the homes of innocent Palestinians, said State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher.

Speaking at the May 18 State Department briefing in Washington, Boucher called on Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to work together with the international community to address Israeli security concerns in Rafah border area between Gaza and Egypt as an alternative to the destruction of homes.

"[T]he best way to solve this is by each party taking responsibility and solving the problem together," he said. "We're saying there are better ways to solve this than by knocking down houses of innocent people."

The United States, he said, understands Israel's concerns over tunnels used for weapons smuggling in the area, the presence of weapons stockpiles, and the possibility that individuals involved in attacks on Israelis could be holed up there.

"We have long said that the Palestinians need to take steps to stop the arms supply ... And frankly, we've always said that finding and stopping the tunnels is one of them," he said.

But, as part of phase one of the road map, Boucher said Israel should refrain from taking actions "that undermine trust, including ... [the] demolition of Palestinian homes and property as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction."

"[W]e have opposed these kinds of demolitions and continue to do so. We've made that very clear. The Israelis know that," he said.

Following is an excerpt from the May 18 State Department briefing:

(begin excerpt)

QUESTION: The Palestinian-Gaza situation, can you talk about any talks that the U.S. has had with the Israelis over the demolition and, you know, I know yesterday there was some talk about whether it contributed to Israel's security, but if you could expand on any knowledge that you have about whether this refugee camp is truly a haven for terrorists or has underground tunnels -- if there's anything you could say about that.

MR. BOUCHER: This is a complex situation. Let me try to explain it all to you. First, I'll make clear again, as the White House has made clear, we and the Secretary have made clear, that we oppose the destruction of houses of innocent Palestinians.

And as the President made clear this morning in his speech, we're troubled by the violence that is occurring in Gaza. We have had discussions with the Israeli Government about this. We have asked some questions about these things. We have tried to pursue them -- about what's going on.

Now, they tell us that there are three concerns about this area, which -- which we understand, and we have spoken about many of these things before. First, they're trying to find the tunnels that have been used for weapons smuggling. They are trying to confiscate stockpiles or arsenals of weapons, and they're trying to detain individuals who might be holed up in these areas who have been involved in attacks on Israelis.

They say that housing demolitions is not an objective of their operations, but, as I said, I think I've stated our position, as well. We certainly understand these security concerns. We have always said Israel has a right to defend itself. But we have said, also, that we believe that other security measures can and should be taken by the Palestinian Authority, by Israel and by Egypt with the support of the international community to address these problems in this border area. And we have called on all parties to exercise restraint; and we've asked them to avoid actions that undermine trust and create new obstacles to implementing the roadmap and realizing the President's vision of two states.

QUESTION: Have you gotten --

QUESTION: Having said that is to say that all the parties you say like to see help oppose the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian terror groups. Is that fair? Otherwise, you'd be asking people who acquiesce in this to stop it, to -- you know --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we don't think anybody should acquiesce.

QUESTION: I know you don't.

MR. BOUCHER: We think that parties should oppose it. We have called on the parties to oppose it. We have said that the -- that all these parties need to cooperate in opposing it and taking action against it. And we think that's the better way to address the --

QUESTION: I understand. Well, we can follow logic down to no end.

QUESTION: Do you --

MR. BOUCHER: Let's slow down.

QUESTION: You indict the Palestinian leadership regularly for not curbing terrorism. And now you -- and, alternatively, when Israel tries to -- says because of these shipments through tunnels they're taking these actions they're taking, you'll suggest to Israel they should depend, look to the Palestinian leadership and others, like Egypt, best trail's Lebanon, which, you know, is not exactly a self-acting government, to assist in cutting off the terrorist supply. I mean I'm lost.

MR. BOUCHER: We think -- well, let me find you.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right.

(Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: We think that all these parties should cooperate --

QUESTION: Sure, they should.

MR. BOUCHER: -- parties that have actively done this or not. We have long said that the Palestinians need to take steps to stop the arms supply. We have said -- you know, we are always asked this question of, "Aren't you asking the Palestinians to start a civil war?" And we've said there's plenty of things they can do. And, frankly, we've always said that finding and stopping the tunnels is one of them, so we do think each of these parties -- Israel, Palestinians and Egypt -- each have a responsibility to take action here.

I don't think we're acting -- asking one country to depend on another or one party to depend on another for security. We're saying the best way to solve this is by each party taking responsibility and solving the problem together. That doesn't change certain basics about our position in the situation, which we've stated and the President has stated as well.

QUESTION: You're just asking parties that are complicit to not be complicit; and you're telling Israel don't do what you're doing, look to them to help stem the --

MR. BOUCHER: We're saying there are betters ways to solve this than by knocking down houses of innocent people. We've recognized Israel has security problems. They have a right to deal with them. And we -- but we are also calling on others to deal with these problems.

QUESTION: Is that the main message for the Secretary calling Olmert in, or are you checking also on the status of the Sharon plan? Has it been revised?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know it was the Secretary calling Olmert in.

QUESTION: Well, I mean about their meeting.

MR. BOUCHER: Their meeting.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. BOUCHER: I would expect this to come up. I would expect the status of the Gaza Withdrawal Plan to come up. Last time they talked, they talked about sort of the current situation in the region. I would expect them to do that again. The Secretary has just been out there, had meetings with the Palestinians, and is always interested in sharing observations and talking about the situation with Israeli groups.

Yeah. Teri.

QUESTION: How do you distinguish who are innocent Palestinians? And how would you have any idea if the Israelis -- and you have the same idea about who's an innocent Palestinian and doesn't deserve their house to be bulldozed?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess maybe the best definition to use -- that's the shorthand definition, but, you know, if you look, say, at the roadmap, the roadmap says on security in phase one that Israel should take no actions that undermine trust, including: -- and then gives a list of things. And one of the things on that list is "demolition of Palestinian homes and property as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction." So those are the kind of situations where we'd consider the people whose homes are being knocked down to be innocents.

QUESTION: But that doesn't distinguish between anyone's homes. It just says don't tear down homes, right?

MR. BOUCHER: Don't tear down homes as a punitive measure or to facilitate construction. Those are the kinds of circumstances where we consider knocking down a house to be -- to involve innocent Palestinians.

QUESTION: What they're doing now is not punitive? Or is that how you view it?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't make a judgment on every single house. I guess, in some ways, that's the question you're asking. But, certainly, we have opposed these kinds of demolitions and continue to do so. We have made that very clear. The Israelis know that.

QUESTION: Richard, have the Israelis supplied you with any evidence that, in fact, they are demolishing the homes to stop the tunnels and the flow of arms from Egypt? And that's one.

Second, there are reports from Israel that are suggesting that these home demolitions are serving the purpose of creating a buffer zone around this. Could you tell us anything about that?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you any more than I have. I've told you what the Israelis say. If people want more detail on that, they'll have to ask the Israelis.

QUESTION: But you're not conducting your own kind of investigation to see if, in fact, they --

MR. BOUCHER: We are certainly watching the situation. We'll follow whatever can be known. We'll keep asking questions and talking to the Israelis about the situation, but not in the fashion that you're describing, no.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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