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UN, Rights Group: Israel Violates International Law by Destroying Palestinian Homes - 2004-10-18

The United Nations and a leading human rights group say Israel has violated international law by destroying Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

In a report Monday, Human Rights Watch says the evidence strongly suggests that Israel has exaggerated threats to justify demolitions in southern Gaza.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch says Israel's Army has demolished the homes of 16,000 Palestinians in the Gaza town of Rafah over the past four years

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says much of the recent destruction in northern Gaza is a "gross violation" of international humanitarian law.

Israel says demolitions in southern Gaza disrupt arms smuggling and operations in northern Gaza stop rocket fire into Israel.

The Gaza offensive that ended Friday led to the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis.

Monday, Israeli troops shot and killed four Palestinian men in separate incidents in and around the northern Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reports Israeli troops shot and killed two men who managed to slip across the fenced and heavily guarded border from the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected calls from settlers to call a referendum on his plans to dismantled all Jewish settlements in Gaza. Mr. Sharon told leaders of the settlers that he already has a mandate for his actions and has no intention of, as he puts it, capitulating to the threats of the rabbis.

Last week a group of leading Zionist religious leaders urged soldiers to refuse to evacuate the settlements.

Settler leaders describe their meeting with Mr. Sharon as a disgrace and vow to continue their opposition to the disengagement plan and Mr. Sharon, the man who was one of the principle champions of the settler movement.

There are an estimated 8,200 settlers living among more than one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.