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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the Israel Defense Forces yesterday against the criticism arising from several recent incidents in which soldiers injured or killed Palestinians in violation of orders.

Speaking to reporters in the Knesset about the latest such incidents, including one in which naval commandos allegedly killed a wounded man they had captured, Sharon said: "I advise you not to get confused or become hysterical. IDF soldiers are fighting a very difficult war, day and night, against the basest, vilest murderers. You should admire what the IDF has done and understand the difficulties."

The IDF should and will investigate problematic incidents, "but under no circumstances should you panic and attack it," he added. "IDF soldiers are more moral in their operations than any other army in the world with which I am familiar."

Regarding media reports about an Israel-Palestinian cease-fire agreement mediated by Egypt, Sharon said: "The cease-fire they are talking about is a cease-fire between the Palestinian Authority and the various terrorist organizations. We are not part of this cease-fire or this agreement. But if there is quiet on their part, if there are no terrorist activity or ticking bombs, I assume that there will also be quiet on our part."