JERUSALEM, FEB. 16 -- Israel's deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak, said today that some soldiers had committed "totally unacceptable" acts against Palestinians, and hospital officials reported three more Arabs wounded by soldiers in the West Bank.
Barak, speaking to foreign journalists, also said more than 200 Israelis had been injured, most of them lightly, since Arab riots began Dec. 9 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. He said 53 Palestinians had been killed. The United Nations puts the number at 54.
Barak and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin confirmed that some soldiers had used a bulldozer to bury four Palestinians alive near the West Bank city of Nablus earlier this month and declared: "This pattern of behavior . . . is totally unacceptable under the standards of the Israeli Defense Forces and any civilized norms. Whoever is found responsible for this event will be punished."
Neighbors rescued the four Arabs shortly after they were buried but all suffered injuries.
While criticizing "unacceptable" actions by Israeli soldiers, however, Barak said the Army had no choice but to use beatings in an attempt to curb the riots. "Whatever amount of force is needed . . . is something that in my judgment is forced upon us by the situation," he said.
Rabin said the burial of the Arabs "will be treated with the full weight of the law. It's not imaginable that such an incident would happen in the Israeli Army."
Young Palestinians set fire to a bus today, burned tires and built road blocks in the occupied territories and Arab East Jerusalem, where a general strike virtually closed down Arab areas.
Riot police stopped a bus carrying Israeli Arab high school students from school in Haifa to their homes in Umm Fahm and beat several of them, the newspaper Al Hamishmar and an official in Umm Fahm reported. Police declined to comment.
In Kabatiyeh, a West Bank village 35 miles north of Jerusalem, soldiers fired to disperse protesters and wounded two young Arabs in the legs, the Arab-run Palestine Press Service reported. It said another Palestinian was wounded during a protest in nearby Jenin.
Doctors at Jenin hospital confirmed treating three men for gunshot wounds.
Army officials said a protester was wounded at Kabatiyeh after trying to wrest a gun from a soldier, but said they had no information about other shootings.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Chaim Corfu, speaking about the unexplained bombing yesterday of a ferry that was to carry Arab deportees from a Cyprus port to Israel, said that if the Palestine Liberation Organization obtained another vessel, "its fate will be the same."
"We knew we wouldn't allow the boat to reach Israel," he said on Israeli radio. "If we could prevent its departure, that was obviously the right thing to do." He did not elaborate on a possible Israeli role.
Reuter reported from Kuwait:
Yasser Arafat said the PLO might retaliate against Israel for the bomb attack on the PLO-chartered ship in Cyprus.
Arafat blamed Israeli agents for the blast, which disabled the auto ferry Sol Phryne in the port of Limassol. The PLO had hired the boat to take 106 deported Palestinians on a symbolic voyage back to Israel.
Arafat appeared to repudiate the 1986 Cairo agreement, in which the PLO pledged to halt military operations against Israeli targets outside Israel and the territories.
"Patience has its limits," he said. "The Cairo announcement is not a commitment from one side only." He said he had contacted the Egyptian authorities, as witnesses to the Cairo agreement, to tell them of his stand.