The London-based human-rights group Amnesty International has called for Israel to immediately stop the destruction of Palestinian homes. Israel is destroying hundreds of Palestinian homes in order to enlarge a security zone in Gaza where five Israeli soldiers were killed last week.

Heavy Israeli military machinery moved in to prepare to destroy the homes on Monday. Hundreds of Palestinians fled their homes in the Rafah refugee camp along the security zone Israel controls on the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel says it needs to destroy hundreds of homes to expand the zone, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons through tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

Israel's action has been widely criticized. In a report issued in London, Amnesty International acknowledges Israel's right to self-defense, but Amnesty's James Dyson says Israel's response to the security threat in southern Gaza is out of proportion.

"Amnesty have actually called in the report for the Palestinian Authority to ensure that civilian areas and residential areas are not used as cover for attacks on Israeli civilians or on the Israeli military. So, we do recognize that that does occasionally occur," says Mr. Dyson. "But we do have also fairly strong evidence that many of these houses have been destroyed long after any of the attacks, but even more significantly in much greater numbers than could have ever have been justified by the attack on the Israeli troops that they were responding to. And we identify an increasing pattern of effective collective punishment which is not allowed under the Geneva Convention."

Amnesty International estimates that the Israeli army has destroyed about three-thousand Palestinian homes during the past three-and-a-half years of violence.

Mr. Dyson says the practice must stop and Amnesty International wants to the United States to exert more influence over Israel. "Amnesty International is really calling on the United States to ensure that Israel respects the articles of human rights and humanitarian law that Israel has signed up to and that it applies them in the Occupied Territories and indeed in Israel itself, particularly in the Arab sector of Israel," he says. "And so, we would like to see the United States put more pressure on Israel to do that."

Amnesty estimates that the practice of destroying homes has left tens-of-thousands of men, women, and children homeless or without an income.

U.S. officials say they are not pleased with Israel's policies, and are talking to Israeli officials about these latest home demolitions.