JERUSALEM, Feb 17: Israel ordered a halt to the army's demolitions of the homes of Palestinian suicide bombers on Thursday after an internal review found that the controversial policy had little deterrent effect.

The army said Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz had accepted the recommendations of the outgoing chief of staff, General Moshe Yaalon, who had ordered a report into the effectiveness of the policy, broadly criticised by rights groups.

"The minister of defence decided to accept the recommendation of the chief of staff to change the policy and stop exercising the legal right to demolish terrorists' houses as a means of deterrence," a statement said.

The policy would only be reintroduced if there were "an extreme change in circumstances", it said. Since August 2002, the army has demolished the houses of hundreds of Palestinian militants found responsible for anti-Israeli attacks, particularly suicide bombings.

The policy has been repeatedly condemned by human rights groups, who claim it amounts to collective punishment and a war crime. Three months ago, Israeli rights group B'Tselem published a report showing that for every house destroyed under the policy, 12 innocent people were made homeless.

The group said 628 housing units - home to 3,983 Palestinians - were destroyed because of the acts of 333 Palestinians. The authors of the review argued that the demolitions have little deterrence effect, as groups such as Hamas usually paid for the homes to be rebuilt. -AFP

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