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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 17:04 GMT
Gaza shields an 'illegal tactic'
Protesters chant outside the home of Mohammed Baroud in Gaza (image from al-Jazeera TV)
Israel called off an air strike in Gaza on Saturday
Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been criticised for risking civilians by asking them to gather at suspected militants homes targeted by Israel.

Human Rights Watch said that using civilians as human shields or knowingly putting them in danger, were breaches of international humanitarian law.

The Israeli army often orders people out of homes ahead of attacks, saying it aims to avoid civilian casualties.

Israeli forces have reportedly destroyed 251 homes in Gaza since July.

"There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful," she said.

Targeted attacks

Palestinian men inspect a house destroyed in an Israeli raid on Friday
Israeli forces struck a building in Beit Lahiya on Friday
On Monday, Palestinians in Gaza flocked to the home of an alleged Hamas leader to prevent a possible Israeli air force attack. The house belonged to Wael Rajab, a senior member of the governing Palestinian militant group. Israel has not confirmed it planned an attack there.

Similar action last week caused Israel to call off an air strike on the home of another militant leader in Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp.

Mohammed Baroud, a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees, said he had been warned by Israeli forces to leave his home - instead he summoned neighbours to help defend his property.

On Tuesday they were joined by two US peace campaigners, the first foreigners to participate.

Human Rights Watch also questioned if the Israeli tactic was aimed at destroying property irrespective of whether it was being used militarily, in which cause it would violate international humanitarian law.

"An ostensibly civilian object such as a home can be the subject of attack only if it is being used for military purposes at the relevant time and its destruction makes a direct and immediate contribution to the fighting."

Israel has said it will continue its policy of air strikes targeting buildings used by militants.

Since July, Israeli forces have destroyed 251 homes in Gaza, leaving 1,577 people homeless, according to the Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem.

In 105 of these cases, Israel warned residents of the planned attack.

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