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Israel Destroys House of Suicide Bomber - 2003-04-01

The Israeli army has destroyed the homes of five Palestinians, including that of the young suicide bomber who blew himself up Sunday in front of a crowded cafe in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya. VOA's Sonja Pace reports on these latest developments in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict and some of the criticism both sides have netted for their practices.

Israeli troops moved into the Al-Amri refugee camp near Ramallah and destroyed the family homes of four suspected militants, allegedly associated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and accused of having planned and carried out attacks against Israel.

Soldiers also demolished the family home of Rami Ghanem near the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Authorities said the young man carried out a suicide bomb attack Sunday in Netanya, which injured dozens of bystanders. The militant group, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it a gift to the Iraqi people.

Israel routinely demolishes the family homes of suspected Palestinian militants and those who have carried out attacks against Israelis. The military says the practice is necessary to deter future attacks. But Palestinians and human rights groups say it amounts to collective punishment and violates international law.

The demolition of Palestinian homes and property has been criticized even by Israel's close ally, the United States. In the State Department's annual human rights report, both Israel and the Palestinians are cited for serious human rights abuses.

The report describes Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied Palestinian territories as poor. It says Israel's policy of demolition, strict curfews, and closures directly punishes innocent civilians. It accuses security forces of using excessive force against Palestinians during military operations, at checkpoints and while on patrol.

The State Department report says that in the past year, Israeli security forces killed at least 990 Palestinians and two foreign nationals and injured more than 4,000, including innocent bystanders. It also says Israeli forces carried out targeted killings of at least 37 Palestinian terror suspects and often undertook these killings in crowded areas where civilians were at risk.

The report notes that the Israeli government has said it is making every effort to reduce civilian casualties during operations.

The State Department report also criticizes the Palestinian Authority and describes its overall human rights record as poor. It accuses members of the security forces and Palestine Liberation Organization officials of participating with terrorist groups in violent attacks against Israeli soldiers, settlers, and other civilians.

The report says the Palestinian Authority has not lived up to its commitment to renounce violence and terrorism and to take responsibility for halting such attacks and disciplining violators.

The report says there is no hard evidence that the Authority's top leaders approved such violent acts in advance, but it says some leaders endorsed such acts by their speeches and statements.

Thus far there has been no official reaction from either the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority to the U.S. report.

The State Department's human rights report for 2002 covers conditions in nearly 200 countries.