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BBC, 17 May 2010

Hamas, the Palestinian movement which controls the Gaza Strip, has forced residents of a southern town from their homes and demolished their houses.

The radical Islamist group says people living at the edge of the town of Rafah had built their homes illegally on government land.

Witnesses said dozens of people were pushed out of their homes but Hamas says the number has been exaggerated.

Palestinians in Gaza have been angered by the demolitions.

Palestinians are more used to seeing homes destroyed in areas occupied by Israeli military or police for being built without the correct permits, correspondents say.

Club-wielding Hamas policemen – and some female police officers wearing face-covering veils – forced people from their homes and then brought in bulldozers.

Government land

Hamas said that only seven houses were demolished, but witnesses told reporters the real number was around 30 or 40.

Some of the buildings were temporary shacks built by people who had been made homeless in an Israeli incursion into Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009.

Residents said they were sold land permits by by a local land owner, but Hamas said the land was meant for government use.

“They promised reform and change – instead they’ve destroyed our homes,” Miasar Gan told reporters.

Reporters said they were barred from the area by Hamas until the demolitions were over.

In 2005, Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza strip has been controlled by Hamas since 2007 when they forced out rivals Fatah.

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