Israel says it will stop knocking down houses

February 18, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israel announced yesterday that it was halting a practice repeatedly denounced by Palestinians and human rights groups: the demolition of the family homes of suicide bombers and other attackers.

The step was the latest on a growing list of goodwill gestures by both Israel and the Palestinians meant to lay the groundwork for a return to peace negotiations under the Palestinian Authority's moderate new leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

The demolition of bombers' homes had struck a strong symbolic chord with Palestinians, who viewed the practice as an unjust form of collective punishment for suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

During the past 4 1/2 years of fighting, Israeli troops have demolished the family homes of nearly 700 Palestinian attackers, many of them suicide bombers, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. Under military rules, Israeli authorities were not required to prove that the families involved had any prior knowledge of the plans of a bomber or gunman.

The demolitions usually took place in the dead of night, within hours of the attack. Palestinian families often were forced to flee with nothing more than the nightclothes they were wearing. In many cases, homes that were blown up or knocked down were compounds that housed several generations of a single Palestinian family.

The practice emphasized the vast gulf between the Israeli and Palestinian perceptions of their own and others' suffering.

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