North Korea and Cuba are the world's worst violators of human rights because they have established systems of "total repression," a top State Department official said Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter offered that assessment on the occasion of the release of the State Department's annual human rights report, which strikes a positive note about the Soviet Union but harsh criticism about Israel.Schifter, who heads the State Department's human rights bureau, said under questioning that his assessment, consistent with previous years, is that Cuba and North Korea are the world's most repressive states.

"What we are talking about here is total repression," Schifter said.

In North Korea, he said, the government "tries really to turn people into automatons."

"As far as Cuba is concerned, there is an effort there to try to achieve the same thing in terms of total penetration of the country by secret police truly spying on every citizen," he said.

The human rights report's section on the Soviet Union said President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms offer "cautious hope for a better day."

But it says the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip led to a "substantial increase" in human rights violations by Israeli authorities last year.

It said the actions of Israeli authorities "resulted in many avoidable deaths" among Palestinians since they began their uprising 14 months ago.

In Jerusalem, Israel rejected key conclusions of the report and said it ignored the context of a violent civilian uprising by Palestinians.

A Foreign Ministry statement disputed the report's claim that soldiers who opened fire unnecessarily on Arabs were given lenient sentences and in some cases not punished at all.

"In spite of the constant provocations, the Israel Defense Force scrupulously maintains moral norms and human rights, and treats any exceptions with utmost severity," a Foreign Ministry statement said.