JERUSALEM, JAN. 20 -- Israeli security forces today implemented a new policy of using beatings instead of firearms against Palestinian protesters in a tactic that defense officials say is designed to lessen Arab casualties and end six weeks of Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The policy, announced yesterday by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was carried out from one end of the occupied territories to the other today, with beatings reported in Gaza refugee camps, against West Bank demonstrators and in Arab East Jerusalem.
Rabin told Israeli legislators yesterday that "no demonstrators have died from being thwacked on the head" by riot troops, and he was quoted today by Israeli Army radio as saying, "The goal is to act against violence with punches and blows and not live ammunition."
Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, whose command includes the West Bank, told reporters today that under the new policy, when youths attempt to prevent merchants from opening their stores, "We will grab who we can and some of them will get beaten so that when they return to their homes they will understand that it is not possible to get up at 9 or 10 in the morning . . . and think it's a national sport to throw stones and set tires on fire and nothing will happen."
But young Palestinians defiantly staged anti-Israeli demonstrations today, burning tires and throwing stones at security forces. A general strike that has paralyzed commerce in the territories for nearly two weeks continued despite forced openings of shops in the West Bank city of Ramallah and renewed threats of a crackdown on merchants who remain closed.
Meanwhile, Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian guerrilla group, claimed responsibility for the infiltration of three armed Palestinians who were killed in a clash with Israeli troops near the northern border kibbutz of Menara at 1 a.m. today, after cutting a security fence.
Rabin, who visited the site of the shootout, said the incident proved that the Palestine Liberation Organization had "not abandoned terrorism" despite a switch in its tactics since the violence in the occupied territories began last month.
Israeli radio reported that at least 20 young Palestinians were arrested for throwing stones and other acts in a renewed wave of violence in Arab villages adjoining Jerusalem. In the most serious incident, a police jeep patrolling Issawiya was hit by stones and swerved out of control, injuring the alleged attacker and two policemen inside.
Rabin said the new policy of "using might, power and beating" to prevent demonstrations was working, arguing that the protests had declined to "nearly zero" in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
It is clear that a prime concern of Israel in adopting its new strategy of beating instead of shooting is the widespread criticism from abroad of the casualties caused by security forces' gunfire in the past six weeks. At least 38 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli guns since the violence began Dec. 9 -- while no Israelis have been killed in the disturbances -- and the use of live ammunition by the military has been a major point of controversy here and overseas.
Nonetheless, there were indications today that many Israelis are disturbed at the new tactics and that some military officers are dissatisfied with the government's frequent changes of policy on dealing with the protests.
The independent daily newspaper Maariv said today that officers were leveling "bitter criticism" at their political masters, The Associated Press reported. Maariv said the officers accuse politicians of making decisions too lightly and lacking long-term plans, meaning "most of the burden and distress falls on the officers and soldiers in the field."
The English-language Jerusalem Post, in an editorial entitled "Between Brutal and Lethal," criticized what it called Rabin's "jarringly brutal language" in outlining the new policy. "As an act of speech, Mr. Rabin's choice of words was chilling, befitting perhaps defense ministers in some other regimes and other cultures with no pretense to sensitivity about humane values," the Jerusalem Post said. "As a leader and representative of the state and the Israel government, he cannot be absolved of the responsibility of thus associating the nation at large with such rhetoric."
A Reuter correspondent reported seeing Israeli troops equipped with new baseball bat-sized clubs in action against demonstrators in the Kadurah refugee camp in Ramallah during house-to-house searches.
In Gaza, Angela Williams, acting director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said the U.N. health center in the Jabaliya refugee camp treated 52 residents for severe beatings meted out by Israeli troops last night.
Five required hospitalization, she said, and doctors told her that the beatings "produced some multiple fractures and cuts and wounds requiring stitches."
Residents of Shuafat in East Jerusalem said paramilitary Border Police and soldiers entered homes during the night, rounded up dozens of male residents and beat some of them. The crackdown followed the stoning of a municipal bus.