JERUSALEM, Nov. 4 (AP)--An independent group of U.S. physicians says the Israeli military uses excessive force in its clashes with Palestinians but also has dismissed some Palestinian claims as unsubstantiated.

Physicians for Human Rights, based in Boston, notably rejected a Palestinian claim that Israelis had tortured and burned a man to death--a widely distributed report that had generated fury among Palestinians.

A three-doctor team led by forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kirschner from the University of Chicago conducted medical and forensic investigations in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank from Oct. 20-27.

In a report published Friday, the group said injuries sustained by protesters contradicted the Israel Defense Forces' stated policy of using live fire only in life-threatening circumstances. The high proportion of fatal head wounds and thigh injuries, it said, demonstrates that soldiers also were "firing at heads and thighs to injure and kill, not to avoid loss of life and injury."

"Israeli authorities must investigate and prosecute in Israel those military and civilians responsible for unjustified use of force in the current conflict. In addition to not following their own standards, the IDF is violating international humanitarian and human rights standards," the group said.

The Israeli army, in response, said its troops strictly observed regulations that mandate precision shooting and proscribe aiming at those who do not pose a clear and present danger.

"It is ... reasonable to presume that many of the Palestinian dead were regrettably hit in the upper portions of their bodies as a result of the fact that they were shooting or carrying out other serious attacks against civilians and against Israeli security forces," it said.

The army nonetheless said it "appreciated" that the report rejected some Palestinian claims.

Significantly, the report confirmed that the Oct. 9 death of Issam Judeh Mustafa Hamed--whom Palestinians claimed was tortured and burned to death--was "the result of trauma inflicted by a car accident," as the Israeli army had claimed.

Hamed's body was found near his overturned car outside the West Bank village of Uhm Safa, and with the widely publicized claims of torture, he became one of the symbols of an uprising that has claimed more than 160 lives, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

Palestinian human rights campaigner Bassem Eid welcomed the report, saying some Palestinian leaders had exploited Hamed's death. "We should not reject a conclusion when it is against us, it is accurate, no doubt about that," he said.

The Physicians for Human Rights report also appeared to allude to the practice among some Palestinian gunmen of using youthful stone-throwers as cover for attacks on Israeli targets. The doctors said the Palestinian Authority was responsible for the safety of all its civilians and "must take measures to ensure that armed individuals do not endanger the lives of other civilians."

Israel says the Palestinian Authority deliberately places the youths in the line of fire to exploit their deaths in the world media.

Mothers of young people who have died in the violence dispute that.

"We don't throw our kids away," said Mona Hamed, whose 14-year-old son, Mohammed, was killed in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "I wish Mohammed told me he was going to the front line. I wish I knew. I would not have let him go."

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