US-based watchdog slams Mideast governments

A leading international human rights group has slammed what it called "routine repression" shown by Middle East governments during recent protests against Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip. "Security forces beat and arrested demonstrators as they tried to voice their opposition," a new report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said. While Arab and Iranian leaders condemned Israel's three-week military operations, their governments "denied their citizens the right to do the same," said the report, released Wednesday. It also criticized Israel and the Palestinian Authority which runs the West Bank for banning protests over Gaza. The Mideast saw daily rallies against the offensive that Israel launched to thwart Hamas's rockets which have targeted southern Israeli towns for years. The offensive, which ended with a truce on Sunday, killed 1,284 Palestinians - 894 of them civilians, including 280 children or teenagers - according to a Palestinian rights group in the coastal strip. The IDF assessed the number of civilian casualties as being much lower than Palestinian claims.