1. The following is the transcript of GOC Commander of the Southern Command, from a quotation and attribution briefing at Kerem Shalom on the 27.01.02. The briefing took place following the publication of the findings of the Southern Command investigation regarding the demolition of the buildings in the Rafah refugee camp during the night between 10-11.01.02.
2. The Pink Line is an area defined by the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1994) as an area under total Israeli security responsibility. The structures demolished in the said operation during the night between 10-11.01.02 are within the sector of the Pink Line since the Palestinians exceeded their building into the 100 meter range between the Philadelphi Road and the refugee camp. In general, it is important to note that the Pink Area, as it was defined in the agreement, is not actualized and there are still Palestinian houses belonging to the refugee camp that are very close to the Philadelphi route which is also a completely Israeli security controlled area.
” The Pink Line is of superior strategic importance to the Palestinians, because in this area the supply of Palestinian forces, as of weapons and people takes place. If the Palestinians wanted to transport someone from the Gaza Strip to Egypt they would need our permission, but the tunnels which the Palestinians dig under these roads allow them to relocate people in and out of their territories, as well as people belonging to terrorist organizations. (In the past there have been a number of terrorist smuggling through the tunnels). Maybe because of this the Philadelphi route is the main area of fighting in the section, even in comparison to the West Bank. From the beginning of the current events there have been on this route 63 bombings, and nearly 1000 grenades have been thrown, as well as during the period in which the Palestinians declared a “cease-fire”. Just last night 25 grenades were thrown on the route. The Palestinians are activating this sector because they want to direct the attention of IDF forces to the area of the Termit post and that way to carry out operations not seen on the surface and which take place underground. (in the tunnels). Under the Philadephi route there are 15 tunnel areas, which connect between the built areas on the both sides of the border.
” The Philadelphi route is mentioned in the Peace Agreement with Egypt (1979). The border is an international border and there is no Israeli settlement there. The area by definition is not an occupied area and Israel has the right to operate in the area (the Pink Area) also in the framework of international obligations. The border was defined in the days of Sykes-Picot and was given an additional validity in the Camp David Agreements of 1979, when President Sa’adat clarified that he does not want control over this area and the fact that there are split families on both sides of the route will mark of a problem to be solved with the Palestinians. For this reason, the Rafah crossing and family meeting points were established on the route. The area is not occupied and the Palestinian claim of Israeli occupation is invalid. The route presents a Palestinian desire to be independent in the meaning of the transfer of weapons and people without restriction or supervision.
” Beyond to smuggling attempts through the route, the Palestinians are attempting to smuggle goods by sea (Karine A) and by air. Through the Dahania airport, weapons were transferred into the Palestinian Authority. Arafat personally, with his arrival in Gaza on the 1.7.94, smuggled weapons (including night sight equipment and Kalachnikov rifles) and people having with blood on their hands in the Mercedes in which he arrived. (Initially Arafat denied having smuggled these people who did not have permission to enter Palestinian Territory, and later admitted the smuggling and they were returned to the Egyptian side of the border). Philadelphi was and is the main source of the entrance of weapons to the Gaza Strip and our ability to know exactly what is going on underneath the surface is limited.
” From my point of view, when our activity is judged, it is done as if our own sons and daughters travel on the route. The soldiers carrying out the operational activity on the route have the right to receive the maximum protection for their lives. It is important to remember that this is a route on which Col. Nabli Mari was killed. This is the same route upon 26.09.01, while Arafat and our Foreign Minister were meeting in Dahaniya, bomb containing dozens of kilograms of explosives was detonated underneath an IDF post-after three months of digging under the post was carried out. Through this route they are still trying to smuggle weapons and still attempting to dig tunnels under the route. After the exposure of the Karine-A, the Palestinians have intensified their talk about smuggling through the Philidelphia route. We needed to respond to all this, and that is why the operation was conceived.
” The direct intentions of this operation were to weaken the fear of the existence of tunnels underneath the Termit post, to create better observation territories for the forces and to limit the mobility of the terrorists who are trying to approach the road and injure IDF soldiers. The need to expose and to enlarge the IDF’s area of activity of operations on the Philadelphi became grater since the beginning of the current events, there is no doubt about that, the question is concerning the timing. On the same Saturday a tunnel was found which proves operational necessity that exists there all the time.
” The area of the operation is north of Termit. The area is a part of the “Yavneh” refugee camp, refugees from 1948 who arrived and settled there.
Before the action we could see that the houses were connected, like honeycombs. Nearly half of the structures were roofless and a small amount of houses with roofs. This is not an orderly area with local rules, and during the last few months the area was engaged in fighting and wasn’t occupied. The distance of the area that was razed from the Termit outpost is approximately 500-600 meter and in other parts even 200-300 meters from the post. Termit’s height advantage allowed the observers to use their observation means and to see that the territory is vacant; The company commander as well as the four wheelers team, travelling along that route said that all the area that was razed wasn’t inhabited for quite a while and there were no signs of life- no running water, no electricity, no equipment , no animals. There are some remains in the area that clarify that there was no life in the area. A few months ago there could have been families there but they left, they might have returned every now and then and placed something in their yards, but during the operation, and for sometime before, the area was not occupied. The Palestinians scattered clothes and food in the area of the demolition, and lied about the number of people that allegedly lived there, and this is another of their manipulations. They claim that they were taken by surprise, but the operation began at 2:00 am, how could hundreds of people escape without anyone being run over and without leaving any equipment? During the actual operation a total of 21 complexes, including yards, were razed, according to command and control needs. The operation was carried out under fire, grenades were thrown and there was fire from the tall surrounding buildings during the entire three hours of the operation.
? After the operation it is perfectly clear that the shots fired [at IDF forces] originate from farther than before (80-70 meters farther) from the route. Also, an additional 80-70 meters have been added to the amount Palestinians will have to dig their smuggling-tunnels (a distance that will add another month to their digging). The necessity of the operation, therefore, has been more than proven.
? The main conclusion: operationally, the activity was carried out well. We were not prepared, however, on the media front. We were prepared to defend the residents of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF, but we did not think about the way to present this to the media. Already during the following day tents were set up and film crews were brought in causing a huge media impact. The operation called for the clearing of more area then was actually cleared due to time constraints (the operation lasted three (3) hours and ended at 5:00 in the morning). In addition there was an error in the navigation of the force in the northern side of the area, which lead to the razing of additional buildings, but even taking these buildings into mind the number of buildings demolished were less then the planned number. Including this mishap. 21 complexes were razed. It must again be emphasized that the area was clear of people.
? The military necessity was clear and the rules of engagement are well known to me in this case. One of the basics of the rules of engagement states that operations need to stem from the military need of defending the people, and in this case the need to defend the residents of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF was absolutely clear. The security reality is better today.
? The Egyptians understand the danger of fighting the Palestinians in this sector. They themselves act against the tunnels and last week they even operated against a tunnel in Egyptian Rafah, arrested one person and later the Palestinians fired rocket-propelled grenades on the Egyptian side.
? Today, the grenades thrown at the Termit post originate from the last row of houses remaining in the refugee camp, and the grenades land 20 meters from the post.
? We will continue to operate in the “Pink Area,” and, in the 4 kilometers under our jurisdiction, only a few operations have been carried out, totaling in the razing of 85 structures in the area of the Philidelphi route. In the area of the mosque no houses have been razed and none will be razed-even though the Palestinians take advantage of this fact and open fire from there on IDF forces. In this area there is a large concentration of tunnels, and a good number of bomb have been placed in the area. The shots fired toward the head of the Israel Security Service, when he visited the Termit post, were fired from the mosque in the south of the refugee camp. It must be stated that the goal of our operation was to operate in a specific enclosed area, and that we have the basic approval to carry out operations in area that is under our security responsibility, and the timing is decided per specific case.
The demolition of houses on the “Philadelphi” route on the 10-11 of January.