JERUSALEM, DEC. 20 -- Rebutting international criticism of its handling of a wave of rioting in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli government declared today that it is dealing with the situation "in a way that is more restrained than any other government in the world in similar circumstances."

Disturbances continued here today and threatened to escalate, with six more Palestinians wounded by gunfire in clashes with the Army. The most seriously injured Palestinian was shot after hurling a molotov cocktail at a paramilitary border policeman, according to the Army. Five others were shot in the legs -- four during a large-scale demonstration at the West Bank's Fara refugee camp and the fifth in Gaza City.

Speaking after their regular weekly Cabinet session, government ministers also accused the media of publishing "exaggerated" reports about the violence that has rocked the territories for 12 straight days.

The military command released a list of 15 Palestinians that it said had died from Army gunfire during the disturbances, and it angrily denied a report published in a leftist Israeli newspaper today quoting unnamed military sources as saying the Army had covered up the deaths of at least 10 victims. Nevertheless, confusion remained over the precise number of dead, with the United Nations listing 17 fatal gunshot victims and the Palestine Press Service, which backs the Palestine Liberation Organization, showing 20 names.

There is also considerable uncertainty over the number of wounded during the disturbances. The Army claims that about 70 persons have been injured by gunfire, although the sum of those cited in its daily reports since the trouble began Dec. 9 is around 120. Palestinian and U.N. sources put the total of wounded at about 200, mostly from gunshots.

While the level of violence has ebbed in the past two days, authorities are admittedly worried about the possibility of a serious flare-up Monday during a planned, united protest strike by Israel's 700,000 Arab citizens together with the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The military government announced that about 800 schools in the territories will be closed Monday and Tuesday in hopes of reducing the chances that demonstrations and protests might erupt into violent clashes.

Israeli Arab leaders voted late last week to call the strike in solidarity with the Palestinians of the occupied territories -- an extraordinary political move, raising the danger that confrontations could spread within Israel's pre-1967 borders. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Another Israeli concern is Monday's expected U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning the government for its handling of the unrest. The Israeli media reported today that the government was engaged in a determined effort to persuade Washington to veto any such measure.

Meanwhile, a Foreign Ministry official coordinating efforts to limit damage to Israel's image from the disturbances said in an interview here today that the government is shocked by the readiness of many nations "to react to what's happening in the territories as if it were occurring in a dictatorship."

{In Egypt, the only Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, the Israeli ambassador was summoned today to the Foreign Ministry where a senior Egyptian official delivered a formal protest of Israel's "oppressive" tactics in the occupied territories, United Press International reported. The protest was the second in nine days, Egyptian sources said.

{In the south Lebanese city of Sidon, a crowd of about 25,000 protesters, chanting "Death to Israel," vowed to take revenge on Israel for the deaths, according to Reuter. The march was the largest in three days of anti-Israeli protests by Palestinians and Lebanese Moslems across Lebanon and its dozen refugee camps.

{At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II issued a Christmas appeal for an end to the violence in the Holy Land and said he felt "particularly close" to the Palestinian people, UPI said.}

While not claiming that West Bank and Gaza Palestinians are happy under Israeli rule, Yossi Beilin, political director general of the Foreign Ministry, charged that the unrest is being "agitated from abroad."

"It is the PLO that is trying to get the profit of those who are killed" in the occupied territories, he said.

Beilin said that Israel has proof the PLO is fomenting unrest but that he is not at liberty to disclose the nature of the evidence. He cited his reputation as a political dove in saying that his interviewer should trust his word.

Beilin said that the Army had not been prepared for the size and widespread nature of protests that broke out in the occupied territories nearly two weeks ago and that, as a result, soldiers found themselves in situations where "almost the only way to deal with it is to open fire." Now, he added, more troops have been deployed and their tactics altered with an eye toward reducing casualties.