U.S. report criticises Israel, Palestinians
JERUSALEM -- Killings have continued in the Middle East as a U.S.-sponsored Human Rights' report criticized both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The annual U.S. State Department report said both sides were to blame for the worsening human rights' situation since the outbreak of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, last September.
The report added that, in general, Israel respected the rights of its citizens, but that its record had worsened late in the year regarding its treatment of non-Jewish citizens -- though it said Israel had always experienced numerous attacks during its existence.
It criticized the Palestinians by saying the Palestinian security forces and members of Fatah's Tanzim forces had killed numerous Israeli soldiers and civilians in the cycle of violence.
The report backed recent comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell last week during his first Middle East tour since new U.S. President George W. Bush took office.
He has called for an end to the fighting before talks can take place.
The disturbances continued with three Israeli motorists being wounded near Jerusalem.
A 50-year-old Palestinian man was killed when an Israeli army shell hit his home in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh.
An Israeli spokesman said a tank had launched one shell at a building he said was being used for cover by gunmen during heavy exchanges of fire in the area.
A 13-year-old Palestinian boy also died during clashes in Gaza.
Israel rejected the report's charges that its forces sometimes used excessive force in tackling the five-month-old uprising.
"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 Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Israel's Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon repeated his vow to conduct peace talks only when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat condemns the violence.
He told Jewish leaders: "The government that I will lead will conduct negotiations with the Palestinians but not under fire and not under terrorism and violence."
But a Palestinian spokesman rejected criticism in the U.S. report of attacks by Palestinian security forces on Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza on lands captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior aide to Arafat, said: "The settlers who are living in the occupied territories are an accessory to the Israel army.
"If they were civilians they should be in Israel, not in the occupied territories."
The Palestinian Authority distanced itself from criticism in the report, saying the authority is not linked with individual attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.
It wants the Mitchell Commission, headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and set up last October, to continue to investigate the origins of the uprising.
Sharon edges closer to unity
But the report has become stalled while Sharon forms his unity government.
Sharon moved a step closer to that goal when Labor signed up at the beginning of the week after severe disagreements within the party.
The Likud party leader is now turning his attention to attracting the far right and religious parties.
"There will be a united government," he said.
"The government is forming. I think this thing is important for bringing unity to the nation and security to the citizens of Israel, and to achieve peace to which everyone is committed."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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