20 January, 2004 – Israeli armoured vehicles and bulldozers destroyed 36 buildings in a Gaza refugee camp during an operation that began in the early hours of this morning, according to the main United Nations agency helping Palestine refugees.
The buildings housed some 81 families, or approximately 400 people, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reported.
Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters exchanged fire throughout the operation. Israeli soldiers took up sniper positions on the roofs of homes and heavy machine gun fire was directed at houses in the area from the armoured vehicles, UNRWA said.
Not including today's operation, 56 buildings in the Rafah camp had already been destroyed in January, UNRWA said.
Meanwhile, the Agency's Commissioner-General, Peter Hansen, has completed official visits to China, Japan and the Republic of Korea to raise financial and political support for UNRWA's work.
All three countries expressed support for the Agency and acknowledged the difficult conditions in which it operates, a UN spokesman reported.
Operating since 1950, UNRWA now provides basic social services to over 4.1 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East. The Agency has faced chronic budgetary shortfalls as contributions fail to keep pace with refugee needs.