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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Head-to-head: Israel demolitions
An Israeli army bulldozer demolishes a building in Rafah in the Gaza Strip
Demolitions: Necessary or criminal?

Amnesty International has condemned Israel's destruction of Palestinian homes as "war crimes".

In a new report, the human rights group accuses Israel of destroying more than 3,000 Palestinian homes in the current three-and-a-half year intifada.

But Israel argues that the demolitions are necessary to prevent attacks on its citizens by Palestinian militants who use the houses to smuggle weapons.

Here, Israel's acting ambassador to London and an Amnesty spokesman set out their arguments:

Acting Ambassador to London, Zvi Rav-Ner, stresses that ordinary Palestinians are not the target but the militants who hide in their midst:

Let me remind you that just a few weeks ago a family of a mother - a pregnant woman - and her four daughters were killed at point-blank range by terrorists from a house that the Supreme Court in Israel had prevented from being bulldozed and knocked down earlier.

It still stands - even after another group of terrorists used the same building to fire at congregants during a memorial service there a week later.

I do not know the exact number of homes Israel has blown up, but let us not exaggerate. Remember that two years ago in Jenin, a bulldozing of a couple of houses was described almost on the scale of Rwanda, and later on it was found out that it was a gross, gross exaggeration.

Houses are destroyed but the target is not houses; the target has been and is those groups of terrorists who are using them, either to attack civilians and soldiers or to construct tunnels underneath them in order to smuggle tons and tons of explosives.

It is not easy - just imagine if a whole housing estate in the middle of London was taken by terrorists and from there attacks launched on civilians around.

This is not collective punishment. The question is how do you fight against those, how do you prevent those terrorists from attacking on the one hand and on the other hand minimise the risk to the civilian population when the terrorists are intentionally hiding among civilian populations. This is a very, very difficult surgery to perform.

You know that we want to get out of Gaza. And you know that there are no fewer than 20,000 Palestinian security officers in Gaza who are doing nothing and on certain occasions have been joining together with the extremists instead of trying to arrest them.

So this is how you go about it, with the utmost care as much as possible in this almost impossible situation in order not to harm the civilian population which is being harmed by the terrorists themselves.

Amnesty International spokesman Kurt Goering says demolitions are unacceptable:

Israel has for many years, decades even, had a policy of forced eviction and demolition of homes.

But over the course of the last three-and-a-half years that policy and the number of homes destroyed has reached unprecedented proportions.

More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed, hundreds of Palestinian public buildings as well as private commercial properties; vast areas of agricultural land have been destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of persons homeless without access to means of livelihood.

Where there are specific targets that the Israelis might identify as an imminent threat, Amnesty would have no issue with those being removed.

However, the destruction of rows and rows of houses in the Rafah area in the Gaza Strip, such as has happened in the last few days, cannot by any reasonable interpretation of military necessity be accepted.

Nearly 100 homes have been destroyed; every one of these, according to the Israeli army or security forces, has been an imminent threat to the lives of soldiers.

The preventive category that is being used by the Israeli forces is extremely broad and it includes these attacks which are claimed to be carried out from these properties or to be used as cover during attacks.

They also include clearing lines of sight, creating entire buffer zones around likely targets. They also include building fences for military installations.

The destruction of property for the purposes of building roads and to improve access between Israeli settlements within the territories and also between the settlements and Israel is absolutely unacceptable.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
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