WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration today rebuked Israel for "harsh security measures and excessive use of live ammunition" in clashes with protesters in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the Administration is trying to end the 2-week-old violence through diplomatic talks with representatives of Israel, Arab nations and Palestinian factions. He declined to identify the countries or the Palestinian leaders or say whether they are from the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"We view the continuing violence with serious concern," Fitzwater said in a statement to reporters. "It is time for both sides to step back from confrontation before there are more tragic casualties."
"Both sides share a responsibility for this violence," he continued. "Demonstrations and riots on one side and harsh security measures and excessive use of live ammunition on the other cannot substitute for a genuine dialogue."
Fitzwater said further that Israel's "continuing occupation is exacting a toll on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the territories, and on Israel as well."
'Damage World Opinion'
He said the occupation's effects "also damage the self-respect and world opinion of the Israeli people."
Rioting in the region began after an Israeli businessman was killed in the Gaza Strip, and several Arabs died the following day, Dec. 9, in a traffic accident involving an Israeli truck.
Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teen-ager today during a violent protest at a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in a day of scattered demonstrations in the occupied territories, bringing the Arab death toll in two weeks of violence to 22.
Six other Palestinians were reported wounded today.
The army sent reinforcements to the West Bank and Gaza Strip earlier today and Israeli leaders vowed to get tough on rioters after two weeks of upheaval.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin toured Gaza City today, talking with army commanders, soldiers and Arab residents. Only about 10% of the stores were open for business there.
Israeli leaders said restoring calm is the first priority, even if it comes at the expense of Israel's image abroad. "Law and order comes before putting on a pretty image," said Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
The Jerusalem Post quoted military officials as saying authorities might increase the use of detention without trial and deportation of activists who provoke incidents.
The actions of Israel to quell the violence, including use of force by the military, prompted a general strike starting Monday in the occupied region.
Fitzwater's comments went further than previous Administration statements on the violence in Israel. The State Department on Monday expressed its concern and said it was "deeply grieved" over the situation. Officials issued a safety warning to Americans traveling in the region during the holiday season, and urged both sides "to exercise restraint."
In the diplomatic overtures, Administration officials "have asked for restraint in the use of live ammunition," Fitzwater said.
Despite the U.S. involvement, he acknowledged, "the tensions have not lessened," and he added, "It becomes more serious all the time. We simply felt it was valuable to reiterate our position," through today's statement.
"We are actively engaged in diplomatic discussions on this matter. We are reviewing it with a number of officials in the area. . . . We are hopeful that some change can come about, but I am just not at liberty to discuss the specifics," he added when questioned about what measures the U.S. officials are trying to achieve.