Israelis blast U.S. human rights report
'We are in a war,' says Sharon spokesman
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli government soundly rejected on Tuesday a U.S. report indicting Israel's human rights record during the past five months of Israeli-Palestinian violence, keeping a finger firmly pointed at the Palestinians as the root cause of the mayhem.
"The issues raised in this report must be seen within the context of the current armed conflict, which has been marked by daily terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians," said a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
"Israel has reacted in a proportionate, measured and responsible fashion to the systematic, ongoing attacks by Palestinian militia and members of the Palestinian Authority," the spokesman said.
The U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights practices, released on Monday, said the human rights records of both Israel and the Palestinians had worsened in late 2000, after the latest round of violence erupted on September 28.
Since that time, more than 440 people -- 369 of them Palestinians, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society -- have been killed in near daily clashes and attacks. The other victims were Israelis and Israeli Arabs.
The report said that "Israeli security forces sometimes used excessive force in contravention of their own rules of engagement" in their response to the ongoing violence.
The report also noted discrepancies in Israel's treatment of Jewish and non-Jewish Israeli citizens, saying that the government's "record worsened late in the year regarding its treatment of non-Jewish citizens."
Palestinian record also weak
But the Palestinians did not escape the U.S. scrutiny.
The report blamed the deaths of "numerous Israeli soldiers and civilians" on Palestinian security forces and the armed wing of the Fatah movement, Tanzim, but Palestinian officials have insisted that they have no part in the violence, and have actually condemned it.
The Palestinians welcomed the report's condemnation of Israel, however, as support of their contention that the Israelis are aggressive occupiers of Palestinian territory.
But Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, slammed the report, telling the Jerusalem Post it was "biased" and "one-sided." He said the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians should be viewed as a war and not "a popular protest."
"The Palestinians' (anticipated) use of this (report) as a tool is unacceptable," he told the newspaper. "We are in a war. They are shooting at us at night and laying bombs in the morning. Gaza has become like Lebanon."
'You have to stop the violence'
The U.S. officials releasing the report, however, appeared to agree with Sharon on one key point -- that the violence must end.
"Rather than getting into the question of pointing fingers at one side or another, the bottom line that one has to come to when you read the report on Israel is that you have to stop the violence," said Acting Assistant Secretary of State Michael Parmly, who delivered the report.
Sharon, who got the backing Monday night of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak's Labor Party for a coalition government, has said he will not negotiate with the Palestinians until the violence ends.
Sharon, who has until March 29 to put together a government, was turning his attentions Tuesday from left-leaning Labor to far-right and ultra-religious parties.
Correspondent Fionnuala Sweeney contributed to this report.
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