JERUSALEM -- Israel is guilty of war crimes in its destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the human rights group Amnesty International charged this week.
Release of a report by the group coincided with the Israeli operation in the Rafah refugee camp on the Israel-Egypt border, where Israel was seeking to widen a buffer zone in its battle against weapons-smuggling tunnels.
The report said the demolition and destruction are ''grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes," calling on Israel to halt the practices immediately. Amnesty also said the house demolitions are linked to Israeli intentions to take over West Bank and Gaza land.
According to the report, Israel has destroyed at least 3,000 Palestinian homes, most of them in the Gaza Strip, since Palestinian Israeli fighting broke out more than three years ago. The report also found that 10 percent of Gaza's agricultural land has been destroyed and 226,000 trees uprooted there in 2002 and 2003.
The report was released on Tuesday. Israeli officials insisted this week that the demolition of houses was not a stated aim of the Rafah operation, but that some houses could be destroyed in the event that militants used them in combat against Israeli troops. The Israeli Army also has said it has found tunnel entrances under buildings in Rafah.
Amnesty countered that the destruction of homes, land, and other property is disproportionate to Israel's security needs.