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2 Killed in West Bank Clashes; Militants' Homes Demolished - 2002-12-30

Israeli troops killed two Palestinians in clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and have demolished the homes of two Palestinian militants. Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization is accusing the military of human-rights abuses.

One of the dead Palestinians was described as a heavily armed man who fired on Israeli troops after breaking through an electronic security fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. Another Palestinian was reported killed in the West Bank city of Nablus during a clash between soldiers and a crowd of Palestinians throwing stones and gasoline bombs at the troops.

In the West Bank village of Doura, troops demolished the homes of two Islamic Jihad militants, who last Friday shot four Jewish seminary students in the settlement of Otniel, hear Hebron. The two militants were killed by Israeli troops shortly after the attack.

The Israeli military often destroys the family homes of suspected Palestinian militants and suicide bombers. Israel said the practice is necessary to deter further attacks. Palestinians and human rights groups condemn the measure as a form of collective punishment.

The Israeli human rights group B'tselem is accusing Israeli soldiers of human rights abuses during an operation in Hebron earlier this month. According to a B'tselem report, four soldiers entered a Palestinian barber shop, beat the owner and the customers, forcibly shaved the heads of two of the men, and used them as human shields when firing back at stone throwing youths outside the shop. B'tselem said its report is based on detailed accounts provided by Palestinian witnesses. The group described this particular incident as only "the tip of the iceberg," and said that human rights violations are a daily occurrence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military says it is not aware of the Hebron incident, but invited Btselem to provide details so an investigation can be started.

Meanwhile, Israel's supreme court rejected an appeal by a group of military reservists who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because. The reservists say Israel's occupation of those territories violates international law.

The court did not address the issue of the occupation's legality, but simply said soldiers must serve wherever the army sends them.