JERUSALEM, FEB. 22 -- Israeli Attorney General Yosef Harish, responding to widespread allegations of beatings of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, has instructed Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to issue strict written guidelines prohibiting soldiers from using physical force except when dispersing riots or making arrests.

In a highly unusual letter dated Friday and released by his office today, Harish told Rabin he had received "numerous complaints of cruel treatment to the inhabitants" of the territories in recent weeks and said he feared the numbers involved were so high that Rabin's claim that such acts were "irregular deeds no longer properly reflects reality."

Harish said Army rules "allow for the use of force to disperse protesters and to carry out the arrest of suspects who resist arrest. But the use of force must be within a reasonable measure to reach the aim for which it is used. It ceases when the aim is reached -- with the dispersal of the protest or the capture of the suspected protester."

"The rule is that it is forbidden to use force as punishment, torture, humiliation or shame," wrote Harish, adding that "any deviation is against the law and permitting the use of force against those basic rules is clearly an illegal order." He said property damage by soldiers was also "strictly forbidden."

Harish has kept a low public profile and generally supported government policies and decisions during his two years in office. His remarks reflect widespread unease within the Israeli legal establishment over the "break their bones" policy announced by Rabin last month to suppress the Palestinian uprising. Druing the 10 weeks of violence, at least 59 Arabs have been killed.

Rabin, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and senior military commanders said last month that the policy of beatings was designed to "reinstill fear" of the Army into Palestinians emboldened by several weeks of civil unrest. Rabin later denied that he meant for soldiers to use beatings as a punitive measure against the local population.

But dozens of witness accounts indicated that many soldiers had interpreted the policy as allowing the systematic and methodical beating of suspects and family members. A team of American doctors who toured the occupied areas two weeks ago estimated that several thousand Palestinians had been beaten and said many of the types of injuries, especially midshaft hand and arm fractures, indicated the victims had been struck in a premeditated fashion and not during a confrontation.

"Rabin's statements were very ambiguous but clearly created a general atmosphere in which soldiers felt it was legitimate to punish people by beating them," said Ruth Gavison, a Hebrew University law professor and civil rights advocate. "It took some time for anger to build {inside the legal community}, but at least now it's clear they can't get away with it."

Rabin's office had no immediate comment on the Harish letter, but Israeli radio reported that new instructions would be issued to soldiers within a matter of days clarifying orders on the use of physical force.

An example of the alleged excesses Harish's letter deplored took place in the West Bank town of Ramallah today, according to witnesses and journalists who saw troops haul a male teen-ager into a shop after they accused him of attempting to stab a soldier. They emerged a few minutes later leaving the man on the shop floor bleeding from blows to his mouth, head and body, according to their account.

According to a soldier who identified himself as Gilad, the man was a Palestinian who approached the Army patrol from behind. "I saw him out of the corner of my eye," Gilad told reporters. "He was trying to stab me in the side with a knife. I turned around and grabbed him with my hand."

Israeli radio said the man was hurt during the scuffle and treated in a nearby storefront. But two local women who said they witnessed the incident said the soldiers grabbed the youth off the street after he said something to one of them. They found a knife in an ensuing search, then dragged the teen-ager into the shop, the women said.

An Army officer prevented reporters and television cameras from entering the shop for several minutes. After three soldiers came out, one of whom had blood splattered on his uniform and another who had blood stains on his wooden club, the reporters were allowed in, where they saw the man lying on the floor glassy-eyed and bleeding heavily from his mouth and head.

Harish told Rabin that in order "to ease the emotional or psychological burden" on soldiers, the Army should "equip soldiers with clear written instructions for the use of force."