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U.N. Report Criticizes Israel’s Military Actions in West Bank

By Colum Lynch

In a toughly-worded report, the U.N.’s chief human rights official urged Israel Monday to curb its military action against Palestinians and to accept international observers in the West Bank and Gaza.

The 20-page report by Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, criticized Israel’s armed forces for firing live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets and rockets against civilian targets. It said “a wide range of observers, including United Nations representatives” have concluded that Israel’s military response to Palestinian unrest in recent weeks has been “excessive and inappropriate.”

Robinson, the U.N.’s high commissioner on human rights, based the report on a Nov. 8-16 trip to the region. She recommended that victims of the violence be given financial compensation for the loss of family members or property, and she urged Israel to halt the expansion of settlements on land captured during the 1967 war.

“The human rights situation in the Occupied Territories is bleak,” she wrote. “The civilian population feels besieged by a stronger power prepared to use its superior force against demonstrations and stone-throwing by adolescents.”

Israeli officials condemned Robinson’s report as one-sided. “There is an attempt to place the onus on Israel for the recent violence, and to absolve the Palestinians of their responsibilities,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

Regev said Israel is engaged in a “sort of mini-war” against gunmen and bombers, not just stone-throwing youths. He added that face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than the deployment of U.N. observers, offered the best prospect for peace.

More than 280 people, mostly Palestinians, have died since Sept. 28, when a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a holy site in Jerusalem set off Palestinian street protests. A U.S.-sponsored fact-finding mission will soon travel to Israel to determine what sparked the violence and try to reduce tensions.