Jerusalem - The Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, believes that more brutality by Israeli security services could have prevented this week's suicide-bombing in Jerusalem, which killed five people.
His private comments, reported in the Israeli press, came after it was revealed that the alleged mastermind behind the bombing had been arrested two days before the blast.
Mr Rabin reportedly complained to cabinet ministers that the attack could have been averted if Shin Bet secret service agents had a freer hand in using force to get confessions. The Prime Minister criticised the attorney general and others who have insisted on close monitoring of the Shin Bet. "The existing laws are very pretty, but are not appropriate for the war against terror and preventing suicide attacks," the Maariv newspaper quoted Mr Rabin as saying.
Human rights activists responded that even under extreme circumstances, torture was not justified. "There is no room for different interpretations of international law," Yizhar Beer, director of the human-rights group Betselem, said. Betselem and other human rights groups have said Palestinian detainees are routinely deprived of sleep and severely beaten to extract confessions.
The alleged bombing mastermind was named as Abdel Nasr Issa, 27, an activist in the Islamic group, Hamas, who was arrested on Saturday, two days before the Jerusalem bus bombing. Mr Issa, from the Balata refugee camp, had a long arrest record and until last year was head of the student council at An Najah University.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, condemned "terrorist activity" by Hamas after a meeting with the Israeli Economy Minister, Yossi Beilin.
At the centre of the controversy is a method known as tiltulim, Hebrew for violent shaking. When a Hamas detainee died as a result of Shin Bet shaking in April, the attorney general limited the practice.
But the Shin Bet chief said that after Monday's bombing, he had permitted his agents to get rougher with Mr Issa. "The change in the interrogation methods led to the uncovering of the whole affair," he said.