JERUSALEM, April 5 -- The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem charged today that Israel has tortured Palestinians who have been detained for interrogation during the current military offensive. The group said in a statement that the interrogation methods included breaking the toes of prisoners. The detainees have also been prohibited from meeting with lawyers, the group said.
The Israeli army denied the charge and referred journalists to the prime minister's office for comment. That office declined to comment.
Israel has long used torture against Palestinian prisoners, but an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in September 1999 specifically outlawed most methods being used, except in emergencies in which civilian lives were at stake. Lior Yavne, a spokesman for B'Tselem, said breaking of toes was outlawed under most laws and conventions.
B'Tselem filed a petition with the court demanding an end to torture of detainees and allowing the prisoners access to lawyers. The court set a hearing for Sunday to consider the petition.
Many of those detained have been released after a few days of interrogation, once the military investigators determine the detainees are not suspects in attacks on Israelis. Some Palestinians detained during this week's incursion into Ramallah have complained of mistreatment, including having their identification cards taken by the soldiers. A Palestinian without a card becomes a virtual criminal in the occupied territories and is subject to arrest at any time.
Palestinians have also frequently complained that Israel has subjected innocent people to punishment during such military operations. In addition to the detentions, mostly of males between 15 and 40 years old, Israel has clamped curfews on areas where its troops are operating, so that Palestinian families are trapped in their homes for days at a time.
In his remarks on the Middle East situation on Thursday, President Bush said, "Israel should show a respect, a respect for and concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people. It is crucial to distinguish between the terrorists and the ordinary Palestinians seeking to provide for their own families." Bush said soldiers at checkpoints should "be compassionate" and spare innocent Palestinians "daily humiliation."
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