Hamas police forces brought in bulldozers to begin demolishing houses belonging to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting the families authorities said were squatting on government land.
Only hours before on Saturday night, the Hamas forces had arrested many of the male members of the 120-family Abu Amra clan who claim they have been living on this nearly four acre site since 1948.
By Sunday morning, the women of the Abu Amra families and the children clinging to their mothers, watched in disbelief as the bulldozers crumpled their cinderblock homes, filling the air with thick clouds of dust.
The scene was reminiscent of demolition by Israel of illegally-built Palestinian homes, or the destruction of more than 1,000 homes belonging to the Jewish residents of Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip just prior to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
The demolition followed extended, but ultimately futile, negotiations between the Hamas government's Land Authority and the Abu Amra families. Officials said they had offered alternative housing and compensation, and had also issued eight previous warnings, but all were rejected and unheeded.
Family members said that Hamas offered land near Deir al-Balah next to the Karni crossing into Israel, but they rejected the offer as being too dangerous because the land was close to the border fence where Israel shoots at anyone coming to near.
"Eastern Gaza, near the Karni crossing, is a very dangerous area. It's under constant Israeli activity, whether shooting or invasions. It's also constantly bombed and shelled by Israel. We will not move there and die," one member of the Abu Amra families, who spoke on condition that he not be named, told The Media Line.
The demolition site is on the western side of the coastal city in the Tal Al Hawa district near Al Azhar University. The families claim they have rightfully owned 3.7 acres of the land and have been residing there since 1948, when tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees flooded into the narrow strip.
Police told The Media Line that they had given numerous warnings to the families, but the they refused to come to an agreement. They also said that the families own only 1.9 acres of the land and had squatted on the rest.
Ibrahim Radwan, Chairman of the Land Authority, told The Media Line that his office was merely enforcing a law passed by the Hamas cabinet last January to stop illegal land-grabbing and squatting on government land.
"Since (January) the plan was to work with the Ministry of Interior in Gaza to study those encroachments and work on removing them," Radwan said.
He added that land grabs made prior to May of 2010 would be settled through negotiations, but any squatting done after that was not to be "forgiven."
Radwan said that the Abu Amra families were offered homes in the Zaytoun neighborhood in the northern Gaza Strip. He said that every family would be given a 125-250 square meter home, according to the size of the family. He added that the government would cover 40% of the housing cost and the families were required to pay only 20% in cash and the rest in small but extended monthly payments.
"Families will be compensated, ranging from $300 to $5,000, depending on the size and the construction materials of the houses," Radwan said.
"They will not be transferred to eastern Gaza like they fear. They will be compensated and they will be offered alternative houses in northern Gaza. What more could they possibly ask for?" Radwan said with amazement.
But would they possibly ask for more than that?" Radwan shared in amazement.
He added that the Land Authority has a backlog of orders to demolish "many houses in many areas of land squatting in Rafah, northern Gaza, western Gaza and other places."
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