Israel security chiefs call for killers' homes to be pulled down

Israel's security services are calling for the punitive demolition of the family homes of two Palestinian men who murdered several members of a Jewish settler family more than a year ago.

The move, if approved, would signal the revival of a controversial policy ended in 2005 after the Israeli military concluded that house demolitions failed to deter Palestinian terror attacks, and instead led to greater resistance. The Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem slammed the recommendation as an "absolutely immoral" form of collective punishment, pointing out that international law forbids the punishment of family members for crimes that their relatives committed.

The measure, proposed by the Shin Bet domestic security service, reportedly has the approval from the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak. Nevertheless, it must first receive legal approval, and is to be discussed by the Attorney General's office in coming weeks.

Last March, cousins Amjad and Hakim Awad stole into Itamar, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, and stabbed to death five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby.

The two men, who came from the nearby Palestinian village of Awarta, were sentenced to multiple life terms.

"This is one of the most brutal terrorist attacks ever, and the Shin Bet thinks that demolition is a punitive step that may deter other terrorists from carrying out such tragic crimes," Army Radio quoted Shin Bet's former head, Yaakov Perry, as saying.

But some within the military oppose the move, fearing it would be seen as vengeance and would lead to clashes in the West Bank.

Shin Bet claims members of the killers' family protected them, and may have hidden or destroyed evidence. Rights groups say that if that is the case, Israel should prosecute and bring to trial those it suspects.

"People are meant to be punished for their actions, not the actions of family members," said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem. "This is the most brutal form of collective punishment possible. It's illegal and absolutely immoral."

l Two Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike for 70 days had their appeal for release from detention without charge rejected by Israel's Supreme Court yesterday. The Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights said the court's decision to turn down the appeals of Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 34, was an effective "death sentence".

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