According to a report quoting local sources, troops also demolished a mosque and school in the area, housing some 450 inhabitants as well as agricultural sheds where livestock were kept.

The village is situated close to the Jewish settlement of Mekhora from where attacks on villagers by settlers often occur, reports Aljazeera's correspondent in the West Bank, Khalid Amayreh.

Residents told AFP that they recently received notice that the buildings were to be destroyed as they are situated "within a military zone".

For its part, the Bait Fureik municipality has reportedly condemned the Israeli army's action as "a crime against the village's inhabitants as well as an attempt to wipe out their economy largely dependent on livestock wealth".

The village is home to several peasant farmers and shepherds.

Amnesty International

In a 2004 report, titled Patterns of House Demolition and Destruction of land in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Amnesty International (AI) found that "the destruction of Palestinian homes and land is linked to Israel's policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies, notably by establishing Israeli settlements in violation of international law".

Amnesty: Some destruction by
Israel amounts to war crimes

Israel, the report says, "has the right to take reasonable, necessary and proportionate measures to protect the security of its citizens from suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinians."

However, under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, is forbidden from destroying Palestinian property unless absolutely necessary for a legitimate military purpose - not for the expansion of illegal settlements or settlement
infrastructure, or in retaliation for Palestinian attacks, continues the AI report.

Legal right

"Affected Palestinians must have a meaningful right to legally challenge any seizure or destruction order.

Palestinian women cry next to
their belongings amid the rubble

"Even in cases where destruction may be justified on grounds of absolute necessity for military operations, Israel should consider less drastic alternatives. Demolitions should never be anything but a last resort," the report adds.

AI found that in the past three and a half years the Israeli army has carried out extensive destruction of homes and properties throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip which is not justified by military necessity.

"Some of these acts of destruction amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes," the report stated.