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Israeli sees WWII similarities { May 24 2004 }

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Israeli sees WWII similarities
By Associated Press

Monday, May 24, 2004 - JERUSALEM -- Causing an uproar, an Israeli Cabinet minister and Holocaust survivor said Sunday he was reminded of the suffering of his family when he saw TV images of an Israeli offensive in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid insisted he was not likening army actions to Nazi policies. However, he said the picture of an elderly woman searching for medication in the rubble of a home razed by Israel in the Rafah camp reminded him of his grandmother.

Infuriated Cabinet colleagues said that even if unspoken, the analogy was clear, and demanded a retraction.

Israel has damaged or demolished dozens of homes in Rafah in its six-day offensive, an attempt to root out militants and uncover arms-smuggling tunnels.

The practice has been widely criticized around the world and questioned by Israel's attorney general.

Early Sunday, four military bulldozers and three tanks moved back into Rafah's Brazil neighborhood, scene of fighting last week.

Hundreds of residents fled the area, with some women loading belongings and young children onto donkey carts. Gunfire crackled in the air, and Israeli helicopters flew overhead.

Separately, three members of the Hamas militant group were killed Sunday while handling explosives in the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian security sources said on condition of anonymity.

The men had pulled their car up alongside an abandoned vehicle used to store their explosives, and the storage vehicle blew up while one of the militants was handling materials inside, the sources said, adding it was unclear whether the explosion had been accidental or carried out by Israel.

Lapid, of the centrist Shinui Party, called for a halt in the demolitions during a Cabinet discussion Sunday, evoking images of his family's suffering during World War II.

"I am talking about an old woman on all fours looking for her medicine in the rubble of her home and I thought about my grandmother," he later told Israel Army Radio.

Lapid, a native of what is now Yugoslavia, spent part of the war in the Budapest ghetto and lost many relatives, including one grandmother and his father, in the Holocaust. He immigrated to Israel in 1948 when he was 17.

Many Israelis have relatives who perished in the Nazi genocide, and using the issue in political debate, however heated, is considered taboo. Any comparisons between the Holocaust and other acts are seen as cheapening the memory of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

"Can he make such an analogy just because he is a Holocaust survivor?" Health Minister Danny Naveh told Army Radio. "The comparison, maybe hinted or even unintentional, between the systematic murder of the Jews by the Germans and the army's operations in Gaza ... is not a legitimate analogy."

In the radio interview, Lapid also revealed that the army is considering demolishing some 2,000 homes in Rafah to expand a patrol road between the camp and the border with Egypt. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed for the first time that they are exploring plans involving the demolition of 700 to 2,000 homes.

"We look like monsters in the eyes of the world," Lapid told Israel Radio. "This makes me sick."

Israeli military officials want to widen the patrol road to make it more difficult for weapons smugglers to dig tunnels. The plan has been criticized by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.

Israeli officials said Attorney General Meni Mazuz believed the road-widening plan would not hold up in local and international courts, and that he told the army to come up with alternatives that would cause less destruction.

In a meeting with Mazuz, military chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz proposed offering compensation to Palestinians who lose their homes, officials said. No decision was made on the he proposal.

Forty-one Palestinians have been killed since "Operation Rainbow" began last Tuesday. Israel says its offensive has resulted in the arrest of dozens of militants and the killing of a local leader of the armed group Hamas. The army also said it had discovered one arms-smuggling tunnel.

The ongoing violence has put new pressure on Sharon, who wants to withdraw from Gaza.

Sharon is exploring the possibility of bringing the moderate Labor Party into his government as he tries to push forward with the withdrawal plan, which faces considerable opposition in his Cabinet, officials said Sunday.

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