Israel to cooperate with UN fact-finding mission in Jenin

United Nations Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen described the conditions in the Jenin refugee camp as "horrifying beyond belief." (AP)

Israel has agreed to cooperate with a United Nations fact-finding team being sent to investigate what happened during the IDF's battles in the Jenin refugee camp. But Israeli officials have made clear that three senior UN officials would not be acceptable as fact-finders: Terje Roed-Larsen, the special coordinator for the Middle East; Mary Robinson, the high commissioner for human rights; and Peter Hansen, the commissioner of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians Refugees in the Near East, the agency responsible for the refugee camps.

A statement issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres's office said he told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that Israel has nothing to hide regarding the Jenin operation. "Jenin had been the site of a fierce battle with armed terrorists, who had deliberately hidden themselves among the civilian population. The IDF did its utmost to avoid harming innocent civilians, and its record is clean in this matter," the statement said.

Tapes recorded during the IDF operations in Jenin will be turned over to members of the team and delegates will be allowed to interview soldiers and officers who took part in the fighting, Israel Radio reported. The UN's decision to send a fact-finding team to Jenin followed a unanimous Security Council resolution adopted Friday with Israel's approval. Resolution 1405 welcomed "the initiative of the Secretary-General to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team."

The resolution also raised the council's concern for the "dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population" and called for "the lifting of restrictions imposed… on the operations of humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East."

The Security Council resolution followed a two-day debate on the Middle East, during which the United States threatened to veto an earlier Arab resolution asking for a probe of Israeli actions in the Jenin camp, which it termed a "massacre." Alternative wording presented by the U.S. also excluded the word "investigation" from the definition of the UN fact-finding mission.

Larsen may be declared "persona non grata"

Roed-Larsen said today that he will not participate in the UN fact-finding team, but would present testimony to it. The UN envoy said that he accepted Israel's objection to his participation in the team, and emphasized that he had not commented against Israel's military operations, but only on the damage caused to the Palestinian population. "I am not accusing anyone of massacres," Roed-Larsen said Friday, a day after touring the camp. "But what I saw yesterday was truly appalling, the destruction was massive and the stench overwhelming." The human catastrophe in the camp was "horrifying beyond belief," he said earlier.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer today accused Roed-Larsen of "incitement" against Israel. The envoy had "adopted the Palestinians' stance - hook, line and sinker," Ben-Eliezer said, speaking on Israel Radio.

Sources connected to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the government was considering declaring Roed-Larsen a "persona non grata," after his harsh comments against Israel. "Sometimes it seems that Larsen is a spokesman for the Palestinians," one senior official said, quoted in Maariv.

But sources added that Sharon has refused to meet with Roed-Larsen for some time, and has instructed his advisers to refrain from meeting with the UN envoy.

"We have nothing to hide"

Minister without portfolio Dan Meridor (Center Party) said Friday that Israel has "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" from a fact-finding team. "We fought a tough battle. We lost 23 fighters. We can assume civilians were hurt, to our regret, but it wasn't us who wanted to conduct the battle in this place."

But Minister without portfolio Danny Naveh (Likud) said that Israel should have stood firm in its objection to an international fact-finding team. Speaking to Army Radio, Naveh noted that the United States never agreed to international investigation when Afghani civilians were killed during the war against terrorism there. Naveh said that this was the first time Israel had agreed to have an international organization review the IDF's operations, and this was a bad precedent for the country.

Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the fact that the United Nations was sending a fact-finding team to Jenin was an example of the organization's "double standard" and was "hypocritical." Speaking at a conference in Mexico, Netanyahu emphasized the fact that UN never sends teams to investigate after Palestinians kill teenagers at a discotheque or people celebrating the Seder meal.

Opposition leader Yossi Sarid (Meretz) said it was clear that there had been no "massacre" in the Jenin refugee camp, but rather a "terrible tragedy." In an opinion piece published on the ynet site, Sarid said he was willing to testify before the UN fact-finding team, but added that the government should have known in advance that there were going to be many civilian casualties in the IDF operation in Jenin.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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