U.N. rejects demand to delay mission to Jenin camp

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday refused Israel's demand to delay and change a U.N. fact-finding mission to the war-ravaged Jenin refugee camp, directing its members to arrive in the Mideast by Saturday.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting after Israel sought a delay, saying it wanted more military and counter-terrorism experts added to the team and also wanted the group to investigate what it says are Palestinian terrorist activities in the camp.

At the end of a nearly two-hour session, the council issued a statement saying it expects "fast implementation" of a resolution welcoming the fact-finding mission -- and Israel's "full cooperation" with the secretary-general and the team.

While the council was holding consultations, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry met Annan in his 38th floor office at U.N. headquarters to ask for changes in the team's composition and its scope of action, which Israel wants limited only to Jenin itself.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem charged that the team was chosen by Annan without consulting Israel, as had been agreed, and the members were political, not from a military background as Israel had requested.

A Western diplomat said Israel wants to negotiate terms for the team's activities in Palestinian areas, and wants one member removed, Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But Annan would not discuss his choice of team members, though he did not rule out adding additional experts if necessary, a statement from the U.N. spokesman said.

Arab nations have accused Israel of massacring Palestinian civilians in the camp, but Israel says the deaths and destruction resulted from gunbattles between its soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres gave a green light to the fact-finding mission on Friday saying the country had "nothing to hide." The Security Council unanimously endorsed the mission.

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