JERUSALEM — Israel today rejected U.S. criticism of its handling of riots in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in which 21 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops since Dec. 9.
"There is no foundation or justification for blaming Israel about the recent serious and unfortunate events" in the occupied territories, a government statement said. It said Israel was doing its utmost to maintain order in the area "while displaying the highest degree of self-restraint."
The Israeli protest came after soldiers arrested hundreds of Palestinians in an overnight sweep in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said more than 300 were arrested in the West Bank as well as an undetermined number in Gaza.
'Shoot to Hit'
Soldiers were told today to fire on riot leaders. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the army had been ordered to "shoot to hit" leaders of demonstrations that get out of control and to expel or imprison ringleaders without trial.
The government protest referred to statements by President Reagan and the State Department that expressed concern over Israel's handling of the disturbances in the occupied territories, the worst in 20 years.
The Israeli statement said Washington should not adopt positions "that could create unnecessary obstacles to Israel's efforts to restore calm and order."
"The government of Israel regrets and takes issue with the American position as expressed in the last 24 hours both in verbal statements and the abstention of the U.S. delegation in the vote of the U.N. Security Council," said a statement issued by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ehud Gol.
U.N. Deplores Action
On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council voted 14 to 0 to adopt a resolution "strongly deploring" Israel's security policies and practices during the unrest.
In a move seen as a victory by Arab diplomats, the United States, a staunch ally of Israel, allowed the resolution to go through by abstaining.
Reagan also issued a statement Tuesday criticizing Israeli actions in the territories. He said the violence was regrettable but there had been "provocation on both sides."
The Israeli protest warned that criticism of army policy in the territories might fuel the cycle of violence that began Dec. 8.
Israel Appeals to U.S.
"Israel hopes that the United States, a true friend of Israel . . . will be particularly careful not to adopt positions which might be interpreted as support for extremist elements who encourage violence," the statement said.
A ministry official said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would pass on the protest to U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering in a meeting today.
Palestine Press Service, which monitors events in the West Bank and Gaza, cited reports of more than 350 arrests in the last two days, bringing total detainees to 1,770. It said the sources were relatives of those arrested.
Palestinian sources said Israeli forces swept into the villages after midnight to round up suspects.
Detention Centers Built
Newspapers said Israel was building two detention centers, apparently like tent cities that housed thousands of prisoners during Israel's Lebanon war of 1982-85.
Rainstorms helped dampen the ardor of protesters and violence appeared to be waning today. Stone-throwing and tire-burning incidents were reported, but Israeli military sources and Palestinians said it was one of the quietest days since trouble began.
A government official said most Arab laborers returned to jobs in Israel today and Arab shopkeepers also ended a strike. "The trend of calm that began yesterday was strengthened today," the official said.