Israel, Palestinians deflect Amnesty critique on rights

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Despite vastly different perspectives, Israel and the Palestinian Authority responded similarly to hard-hitting criticisms of their human rights records in a new report by Amnesty International.

Spokesmen for each side stressed that a human rights record needs to be judged in context. In Israel's case, said Government Press Office Director Moshe Fogel, the context is of a war lasting more than half a century. In the Palestinian case, said Palestinian Authority journalist Hafez Barghouthi, it is of a lack of control over most Palestinian lands and threats to the Palestinian statehood drive from Israel.

In the report, which covers 1998 and was made public recently, Amnesty faulted Israel for administrative detentions, trials of Palestinians before military courts that failed to comply with international fair trial standards, and for keeping 40 Lebanese nationals behind bars in Israel, including 22 of them held without charge or trial after expiration of their sentences.

The Palestinian Authority was blamed for hundreds of arrests on political grounds, detentions without charges or trials, "grossly unfair" trials by state security courts and widespread torture of detainees.

Regarding Israel, "Torture and ill-treatment continued to be officially sanctioned and used systematically during interrogation of security detainees," the report said.

Amnesty said that hundreds of Palestinians who were tried before military courts for offenses such as stone-throwing and membership in illegal organizations remain in jail, adding that "confessions extracted through torture frequently formed the main evidence against [them]."

"It strains fairness and logic to compare Israel, which has known wars throughout its 51-year existence, to Western countries at peace," Fogel said.

Amnesty said the Palestinian Authority arrested 450 people for political reasons during the year, including those suspected of criticizing the regime, supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and collaborating with Israel. It said that a total of more than 500 political detainees arrested in previous years remain in detention without charge or trial.