Amnesty International accused Israel on Tuesday of increasingly using torture in interrogating Palestinians and called on the United Nations to launch an investigation.
In a report to the United Nations Committee against Torture, the London-based human rights group cited "strong evidence" that illegal methods including painful handcuffing, sleep deprivation and prolonged squatting on haunches were being used.
The report was issued as the UN committee, made up of 10 independent experts, began examining Israel's record at their semi-annual, two-week session underway in Geneva.
It comes a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a new U.S. peace mission to end nearly 14 months of violence in which at least 710 Palestinians and 188 Israelis have been killed since September 2000.
"The Israeli government has failed to address the evidence of increasing use of torture by its law enforcement officials," Amnesty said.
"Amnesty International raises incidents of torture, prolonged incommunicado detention and brutality against Palestinians by members of the security forces and expresses concern that security force members appear to benefit from impunity for torture or ill-treatment of Palestinians," it said.
This was despite a 1999 ruling by Israel's High Court of Justice which banned interrogation methods constituting torture, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty also urged the UN torture watchdog body to declare that the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" banned under the 1987 Convention against Torture.
More than 500 homes had been demolished during the past year, leaving at least 2,000 Palestinians homeless, according to Amnesty. It also criticised prolonged closures of towns and areas as forms of collective punishment which deny freedom of movement - a right guarantee under the Convention.
Israel is among 126 countries to have ratified the international pact.
The World Organization against Torture also said Palestinian women and girls detained by the Jewish state were reportedly frequently subjected to torture by prison authorities.
Punishment included prolonged periods in solitary confinement, shackling, beatings, sleep deprivation and denial of medical assistance, the Geneva-based group said in a statement focusing on treatment of females.
The UN.special investigator on torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, told Reuters in an interview this month that Israel had denied his request last March to investigate widespread allegations of torture in the occupied territories.
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