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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 19:34 GMT
Israeli measures 'help militants'
Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades fighter
Restrictions are boosting support for militants
Israel's treatment of Palestinians is causing a humanitarian crisis, the country's chief of staff has said.

General Moshe Yaalon made the comments in off-the-record media briefings.

He said the curfew imposed after the suicide attacks four weeks ago was increasing support for militants and called for lifting some restrictions.

General Yaalon's comments have caused a public rift within Israel's cabinet, reflecting frustration at its inability to end the Palestinian intifada.

Reports also say his proposals for easing the restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan were overruled by security officials.

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has agreed only to a minor lifting of the travel bans and closures.

In his interviews, General Yaalon reportedly said Israel should have eased Palestinian hardships to help prop up reformist Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, who resigned in early September after only four months in office.

There has been no official response to General Yaalon's comments.

But Mr Mofaz is said to have summoned the general after what the Israeli media described as fury in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office.

Right to speak out

The dispute has focused on General Yaalon's decision to go public with his criticism, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem.

But the content of his remarks has been taken up by those who believe the army's policies in the occupied territories are not bringing Israel security, our correspondent says.

Cabinet minister Uzi Landau said the chief of staff should have set an example "of how to behave and not how it is forbidden to behave".

Quoting unnamed sources, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom agreed with General Yaalon's statements.

According to Israeli army radio, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also said General Yaalon should be able to express his opinions in the appropriate manner.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"It's exposed a division... over the treatment of Palestinians"

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