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Use Less Force, U.S. Tells Israel : Rebuke Issued Over Handling of Arab Unrest

December 23, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER and JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration, alarmed by the steadily escalating violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on Tuesday urged Israel to end its "harsh security measures" and pointedly reminded it that the world has never fully accepted its 20-year-old occupation of the predominantly Arab territories.

The White House and the State Department, in separate but carefully coordinated statements, gave Israel its sternest tongue-lashing since its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, denouncing the "excessive use of live ammunition" by riot-control troops and calling on the government to reverse its apparent decision to rely on increasing levels of force to restore peace in the occupied territories.

Resolution Approved

In addition, the United States allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution Tuesday afternoon strongly deploring Israeli "policies and practices which violate the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories." The resolution referred particularly to the use of firearms by the Israeli army "resulting in the killing and wounding of defenseless Palestinian civilians."

The United States abstained in the 14-0 vote, although the Israeli government had urged it to veto the resolution. As a permanent member of the council, the United States has used its veto power in that body many times to kill resolutions that it deemed unfair to Israel.

Although it often expresses contempt for the United Nations, the Jerusalem government is very sensitive to actions by the world body, considering them a measure of its standing in the international community.

Earlier, President Reagan, talking to reporters during a White House photo session, said that Israel does not seem concerned about international public opinion but that "the world is concerned." Reagan said the continuing violence is "regrettable" but added, "There has been provocation on both sides."

The official White House and State Department statements also emphasized that the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip shares the blame for the crisis.

"Both sides share a responsibility for this violence," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. "Demonstrations and riots on one side, and harsh security measures and excessive use of live ammunition on the other, cannot substitute for genuine dialogue."

Urge End to Occupation

But Fitzwater and State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley stressed that Israel must take the lead in efforts to bring the confrontation to an end. And the prepared Administration statements called for an end to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, a demand that Israel has rejected in the past.

"The continuing occupation is exacting a toll on the 1 1/2 million Palestinians in the (occupied) territories and on Israel as well," Fitzwater said. "The effects of occupation are not felt in the territories alone. They also damage the self-respect . . . of the Israeli people."

Oakley added that the only long-term solution to recurring violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is an Israel-Arab peace treaty based on "the principle of land for peace."

She said that the U.S. government continues to support U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and Reagan's 1982 Middle East peace plan, all of which call for Israeli withdrawal from territory that has been under military occupation since the end of the 1967 Middle East War.

"The current situation, absent of progress in the peace process, is not viable," Oakley said.

Washington long has favored a negotiated settlement providing for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, but that policy usually goes unspoken. By repeating it at both the White House and the State Department, the Administration clearly intended to remind Israel of its precarious position in the international community.

However, despite its decision not to block the Security Council resolution, a State Department official said the Administration is not considering an arms embargo or any other form of sanctions against Israel.

U.S. Asks Restraint

A few hours before the new U.S. statements were issued, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said in Jerusalem that Israel would increase its use of force in an effort to end the longest and most violent unrest there in 20 years. He said that "rioters must realize they are not immune from . . . serious injury."

Fitzwater, in an indirect response to Rabin, said, "We have asked restraint in the use of live ammunition." He said the U.S. government has suggested that "rubber bullets or other means were preferable."

Oakley said the U.S. government has raised the matter with Israeli officials "at the highest level." She said U.S. officials also have contacted Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories and have discussed the situation with leaders of neighboring Arab countries.

"We can't tell the Israelis what to do and how to handle things," a State Department official said. "They've got a real security problem. But we want them to realize that from our point of view, the way they are handling the situation is not helping. To send young recruits trained for combat into a civilian situation is not helping."

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