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Israel destroys school that militants hate

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When President George W. Bush visited the West Bank a year ago, Palestinian militants in Gaza vented their anger by ransacking the American International School here, smashing windows, stealing computers and torching a small fleet of buses.

It was just the latest episode in a decade-long string of bombings, kidnappings and lootings at the elite private school, which isn’t connected to the U.S. government but has an American-style curriculum and coed, English-only classrooms, which have made it a favorite target of Islamic extremists.

On Jan. 3, the school finally was destroyed, but not by Islamist extremists. An Israeli airstrike flattened the two-story building and sprayed shards of steel and stone over the manicured lawns and soccer field. The night watchman was killed. Books, computers, science equipment and art supplies were crushed beneath the wreckage.

Within moments, Gaza’s perhaps most pro-Western institution — a symbol of possibility in a sealed-off, war-torn land — was gone.

The Israeli army told McClatchy that its forces hit the school because Hamas militants had launched rockets from the grounds. School officials and neighborhood residents rejected that explanation, however, saying that the hilltop campus offered few places to hide and that the militants themselves often had attacked the campus.

"It seems that targeting our school . . . was one of the very few things that fanatic groups and Israel could agree on," said Sharhabeel al Zaeem, a member of the school’s board of directors.

As school officials search for a temporary campus for their 230 students, the loss has stunned many Gazans. If any place should have been safe from Israel’s war on Hamas, they say, it was the school, which for years flew an American flag over the main gate and whose graduates attend top universities in the United States, Canada and the Middle East.

Yet of the 25 schools and hospitals that Israeli forces hit during the 22-day war, according to a tally by Palestinian officials, only the American International School was destroyed. Days after the airstrike, Israeli bulldozers and tanks returned to the campus and plowed over the basketball court and the jungle gym, school officials and residents said.

Human rights experts are investigating whether Israel’s attacks on Gaza schools — which as civilian property are protected by international humanitarian law — constitute war crimes…

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Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2009 at 7:58 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

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