U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is urging Israel to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

As Israeli troops backed by tanks and bulldozers converged on the Palestinian town of Rafah Monday, Secretary General Annan pleaded for a halt to their threatened demolition. "I appeal to Israel to stop this destruction, which is against international humanitarian law," he said.

Mr. Annan noted that he and the acting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had condemned the demolition of homes in Rafah in separate statements last Friday, after reports that Israeli troops had bulldozed 130 buildings. "I'm really distressed that the destruction of houses continues. It really is causing very difficult and painful situations for the people of Palestine," he said.

Israel announced the Gaza military operation Sunday, including plans to destroy as many as 200 homes.

Israel's Supreme Court lifted a temporary ban on demolition of homes around Rafah and an adjacent refugee camp. Israel said it must have a wider buffer zone along the border to stop arms smuggling and attacks by militants.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees says more than 12-thousand Rafah residents have been made homeless since the uprising - or Intifada - began in 2000.

Israel began the latest Rafah operation after ambushes that killed 12 Israeli soldiers in Gaza. The Israeli army said it planned to destroy buildings that could serve as terrorist hideouts, and said it may also dig a deep moat to prevent Palestinians from digging tunnels to smuggle arms.