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US Criticizes  Israeli Plan to Expel Suicide Bombers' Relatives - 2002-07-19

The United States has joined in international criticism of Israel for its arrests and possible explusion to Gaza, of relatives of West Bank Palestinians said to have been behind the latest violent attacks against Israelis. A State Department official says the arrests of family members, and the demolition of the family homes of militants, amounts to collective punishment.

The Bush administration has generally upheld what it says is Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian terrorism. But it has joined European, Arab and other officials in criticizing Friday's Israeli roundup of more than 20 men in the West Bank said to be the fathers and brothers of suspects in this week's attacks.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who also re-iterated U.S. criticism of Israeli house-demolitions, said Israel should arrest those it believes committed terror acts, and not their family members.

"We believe that these actions don't solve Israel's security problems," the spokesman said. "We believe that actions should not be based on family relationships, but rather on individual guilt."

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said the United States has always opposed what he termed "collective punishment," and that diplomats from U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv would convey U.S. concerns about the latest actions to Israeli authorities.