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Israel destroys Palestinian homes as punishment: report

JERUSALEM - A New York-based human rights group says Israel has exaggerated terrorist threats and is systematically destroying Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

A woman sits with her belongings in the rubble on the edge of Rafah. (AP photo)

Human Rights Watch says Israel has targeted homes indiscriminately and has failed to meet its obligations as an occupying power.

Israel insists the demolitions are necessary to expose weapons-smuggling tunnels and to create a protective buffer between Israel and Egypt.

The report, "Razing Rafah," examines the destruction wrought by Israel's efforts to create a buffer zone.

The report says the Israeli military assumes "that every Palestinian is a potential suicide bomber and every home a potential base for attack."

Israeli officials say as many as 90 weapons-smuggling tunnels have been found.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, says Israel has exaggerated that number and that the destruction of Palestinian homes is gratuitous.

"It is wrong, even in a democracy, to use superfluous military force against civilians in order to try to influence the military, I mean, that is Israel's first line of argument for why suicide bombing is wrong. It is utterly wrong to attack civilians or their property for military objectives," said Roth at a news conference.

The group, based in New York, says 16,000 people have been made homeless in southern Gaza over the past four years, regardless of whether their homes posed a genuine military threat.

Roth acknowledged Israel had a right to try to block the tunnels to protect its soldiers, but that didn't extend to an absolute military necessity to destroy homes.

"Part of the rationale here seems to be to punish civilians for the conduct of militants. The people whose homes are destroyed are, for the most part, just ordinary civilians."

Roth suggests Israel employ other methods, such as underground sensors and radar, to locate tunnels.

Also on Monday, Peter Hansen, the commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency toured parts of the Gaza Strip to see the damage caused by the Israeli incursion.

"Most of what we have seen here ... over the past two weeks is in gross violation of international humanitarian law and we will go on protesting these measures which are not proportionate, which are not relevant to the targets that Israel has chosen to try to hit," said Hansen.

The Israeli army was unavailable to comment on the report and the Foreign Ministry has said it rejects the allegations.

Written by CBC News Online staff

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