JERUSALEM — American Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering on Monday reiterated U.S. objections to the Israeli policy of expelling Palestinians from the occupied territories and expressed Washington's concern over a range of other Palestinian rights issues in a meeting with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli and diplomatic sources confirmed.
The Israeli media reported this morning that U.S. Under Secretary of State Philip Wilcox also transmitted a statement to Israeli Charge d'Affaires Oded Eran in Washington demanding that Israel not deport Palestinians.
It was also learned that the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem plan to send observers today to the expedited trials now being conducted of some of the 900 Palestinians arrested since the outbreak Dec. 9 of the most widespread civil unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Informed sources said that the observers will appear first at the Nablus military court, and possibly at other military courts on subsequent days. Their job, the sources said, is both to report on whether due process is being exercised in the conduct of the trials and to be a visible expression of U.S. concern.
Palestinian lawyers charged over the weekend that the prisoners have been abused by the army and that their rights are being trampled in the military's rush to convict them. The lawyers also said that in some cases, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, they have been denied access to their clients.
The army denies the allegations. "Justice will be done, and quickly," Gen. Amnon Strasnov, the judge advocate general, said in an Israeli television interview Sunday night. "One does not contradict the other."
The trials, which began Sunday, continued Monday with the arraignment of about 75 more detainees. In Nablus, according to a military spokesman, 21 of 24 cases were continued to give the defense more time to prepare. Defendants in the three other cases received sentences of 50 to 75 days in jail, plus fines of 300 shekels (about $200) as part of plea bargaining arrangements.
In the Gaza Strip, according to witnesses and Israel radio, most of at least 50 more defendants pleaded guilty, receiving jail sentences ranging from 20 days to four months and fines of up to 1,000 shekels ($650). None of the Gaza defendants had defense lawyers because the attorneys boycotted the trials, asserting that they are a charade.
Witnesses said that by mid-morning, the military judge in at least one Gaza courtroom was convicting people at the rate of one every two or three minutes.
Pickering is understood to have raised the due-process issue in his meeting with Rabin on Monday morning. He also repeated U.S. concerns about Israel's use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators.
21 Palestinians Killed
According to the official count, 21 Palestinians have been killed by army gunfire in the wave of unrest and 158 more wounded. Two other Palestinians have died from apparent heart attacks related to the violence.
There have been no casualties from gunfire during the last week, however, after the introduction to the territories of massive army reinforcements and an accelerated wave of arrests. The West Bank and Gaza Strip were reported calm on Monday.
Commenting in Washington on the situation, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said: "We hope that calm continues. And we hope that the international standards of due process will be maintained."
Fitzwater declined to say whether he thought that the trials met such standards, but he said: "We hope people who are arrested . . . aren't held in jail without legal cause."
In a briefing for Israeli defense correspondents late Monday, the army chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, said the scope and intensity of the recent disturbances had taken the authorities by surprise.
Shomron said that to reduce the possibility of casualties in future clashes, the army will add to its training a course in riot control and will channel more draftees into the paramilitary border police, which serves as Israel's main riot control force. He also said that the army will increase its stockpile of riot control gear after having run out of some supplies during the recent unrest.
The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to create a specially trained riot control force separate from the army and border police in order to handle civil unrest with a minimum of casualties.
In his meeting with Rabin, Pickering is reported to have expressed Washington's reservations about the widespread use of administrative arrests to cope with alleged Palestinian security threats, and, most sensitively, about any expulsions of Palestinians from the occupied territories.
Proposal on Expulsions
Rabin is reportedly weighing a proposal to expel up to 20 Palestinians accused of being ringleaders of the latest violence. It would be the most severe action of its kind in more than a decade.