Israel has failed to provide Palestinian olive growers with protection against increasing Jewish settler violence which disrupted this year's harvest in the West Bank, an Israeli human rights group said yesterday.

B'Tselem said in a report that more than 70,500 Palestinian families depend on the olive harvest for their livelihood but in many cases were scared away from their groves by armed settlers.

The attacks were carried out against the backdrop of a two-year-old Palestinian uprising for independence in which Palestinian militants have frequently targeted Jewish colonies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

B'Tselem said settlers carried out "systematic and violent attacks" on Palestinians harvesting olives from October until early November, when security forces began taking stronger steps to stop the violence.

"Since the beginning of the current harvest season, the acts of violence against olive harvesters have been more frequent and intense than in previous seasons," said the report by B'Tselem which monitors Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.

In October, settlers shot dead a 22-year-old from the village of Aqraba in his grove, witnesses said.

No arrests have been made. In other incidents, settlers shot at and threw stones at olive pickers or beat them with clubs and rifles, it said.

The group said security forces should have taken better protective measures. "Neither the lack of preparation for coping with armed settlers nor the reluctance to confront them can justify the systematic eviction of Palestini-ans working on their own land," it said.

Responding to the report, police spokesman Rafi Yafeh said eight settlers had been arrested in connection with attacks and that police were doing all they could to enforce the law.

An army spokesman said Palestinians had been asked to coordinate their harvesting with military commanders to ensure their safety but that in most of the incidents cited by B'Tselem the army had not been notified in advance.

Some of the settler attacks occurred when Palestinians tried to harvest trees close to fences around colonies built on land occupied by Israel.

The international community regards the colonies as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.