03 January 2003
The United States expressed concern Friday about Israel's continued use of house-demolitions as a tactic against Palestinians accused of acts of terrorism. The State Department says in addition to displacing people in Palestinian areas, the practice damages the climate for future peace talks.
The State Department is joining human rights groups in renewing its criticism of house-demolitions by Israeli security forces.
Since August, Israel is reported to have bulldozed or dynamited more than 110 homes in the West Bank said to have been used by Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis.
Though Israel defends the practice as a deterrent to terrorism, international human rights groups say it amounts to collective punishment of the families of militants.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States recognizes Israel's need to take "legitimate anti-terrorism action" and has been clear about the need for Palestinian action against violence and terror. But he said the demolitions only worsen the situation in the Palestinian areas.
"Steps such as the displacement of people through the demolition of homes and property exacerbate the humanitarian situation and undermine trust and confidence," Mr. Boucher said. "We are further disturbed by reports that the demolition of homes in recent weeks has resulted in the deaths of two civilian occupants inside. We urge Israel to consider the consequences of actions such as these, and take all appropriate measures to ensure that civilian casualties do not result from Israeli anti-terrorist actions."
The comments followed the reported Israeli demolition of two Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip town of Rafah Friday. Palestinians say at least two dozen houses have been leveled in the past week in Rafah, which has been a flash-point for anti-Israeli activity.
Administration officials say there will be a renewed effort at peace-making after the Israeli elections January 28. The United States, along with other members of the Middle East "quartet" - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations are preparing a so-called "roadmap" for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within three years.