Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Israel puts a stop to demolition of bombers' houses

CONCILIATORY MOVE After concluding that the demolitions are ineffective -- something critics have argued for years -- Tel Aviv will scotch the policy

AP , Jerusalem

In another sign of easing tensions following a cease-fire, Israel has halted destruction of homes of Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen after the army concluded the practice has not deterred attackers but has inflamed hatred, the military said in a statement.

The decision, announced Thursday, mirrors comments made by human rights groups for years.

Since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, more than 2,400 homes have been destroyed as punishment or deterrence, including 675 in the past four years of fighting, according a statement issued by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem on Thursday.

The army committee found that house demolitions generally inflame hatred.

The Haaretz newspaper said that there were no more than 20 cases in which the threat of demolition deterred potential attackers or pushed their families to turn them in. Militant groups compensate families of attackers and help them rebuild, weakening possible deterrence.

"Following the completion of the committee's examination, the Minister of Defense [Shaul Mofaz] decided to accept the recommendation of the Chief of Staff [Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon] to change the policy, and stop exercising the legal right to demolish terrorists' houses as a means of deterrence," the military said in a statement, adding that the decision would be re-examined "if an extreme change in circumstances takes place."

House demolitions, along with other army practices like targeted killings of Palestinian militants, were suspended after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared a truce last week.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the change in policy on demolishing houses was part of the package of measures agreed on at the summit.

The package, Ashrawi said, was meant to end not only the demolition of homes, but also Israeli military raids and assassinations of fugitives.

"We think this is the implementation of one part of the deal, and we hope they will implement all the other parts," she said.

The human rights group says the Israeli military has destroyed more than 4,000 Palestinian homes during the current conflict. Most were razed in operations to clear away buildings used by militants as cover for attacks or to widen security roads. Those practices were not included in the Thursday decision.

Not Far Enough

Amnesty International, a leading human rights group, praised the Israeli decision but said it did not go far enough.

"The overall number of houses that have been demolished in the last four years is in excess of 4,000, and out of those the category announced today was a fairly small category," said Donatella Rovera, the human rights group's researcher on Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Punitive demolitions over the last four years have left 4,239 Palestinians homeless, most of them in the West Bank, B'tselem said. Since 2000, more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed in bombings and shootings.

The three-story home belonging to the family of Ala Sanakra, local leader of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the West Bank refugee camp of Balata, was demolished last fall after he recruited a 19-year-old woman from a nearby camp to blow herself up at a busy Jerusalem junction, killing herself and two Israeli policemen.

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