Hamas police wielding clubs beat and pushed residents out of dozens of homes in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Sunday before knocking the buildings down with bulldozers, residents said.
Gaza's militant Hamas rulers said the homes were built illegally on government land. Newly homeless residents were furious over Palestinians on bulldozers razing Palestinian homes.
For years, Palestinians have criticized Israel for destroying houses, mostly because they were built without permits issued by the military. Now, Rafah residents complained, their own government, run by the Islamic militant Hamas that seized power in Gaza in July 2007, has done the same.
"They promised reform and change – instead they've destroyed our homes," shouted Miasar Gan, a 54-year-old woman. Gan said she and her husband had nowhere else to go.
"I found my mattress, and that's where I'll be sitting," she said, standing next to the concrete chunks – all that was left of her house.
Her neighbor, Nazira Abu Jara, 56, said policewomen wearing face veils typical of conservative Muslim women beat her with clubs until she fled her house with her husband and two children. "Neighbors help us get by with charity. We can't afford to build again," Abu Jara said.
Others picked through rubble to retrieve dusty clothing and mangled furniture.
Residents said between 30 and 40 homes were torn down, ranging from concrete structures to tin shacks. They did not know how many people were affected. Hamas officials did not allow reporters into the area until the demolition was over.
Residents said more demolitions in the area were expected Monday.
Even if they are allowed to rebuild, Israel does not allow most building materials into the territory it has blockaded since Hamas seized power. The newly homeless residents are unlikely to be able to afford the steep black market prices for concrete, steel and wood. Some of the families cannot afford rent.
Rafah's mayor, Issa Nashar, promised alternative housing. Gaza's housing minister Yousef al-Mansi said he had no information about such housing.