U.N. delays arrival at Jenin until Israeli Cabinet decision

Saturday, April 27, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday agreed to a one-day delay in the arrival of a U.N. team to probe Israel's military assault on the Jenin refugee camp.

Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres asked Annan for a Sunday night arrival so the Israeli Cabinet can formally debate the mission Sunday morning, Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast said. The U.N. team had been scheduled to arrive today.

Israel gave a green light to a fact-finding mission last Friday, saying it had "nothing to hide." But after Annan announced the members of the team on Monday, Israel asked for a delay to seek changes in its composition and mandate.

Annan refused to delay the mission, saying it was expected in the Middle East by today, but he agreed to an Israeli request for a delegation to come to New York to express its concerns. The delegation held talks with a U.N. team led by Prendergast on Thursday and Friday.

After insisting as late as Friday morning that there would be no delay, Annan changed his mind because of the Jewish Sabbath which begins at sundown on Friday.

Before announcing the delay, Prendergast briefed a closed Security Council meeting.

Sabbath wait

According to council diplomats, he said Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry told the U.N. officials that the Cabinet had "informally agreed" to let the mission proceed, but the formal approval could not take place until after the Sabbath, which ends at sundown today.

"A formal decision will be taken on Sunday morning," Prendergast told reporters. "As you know it's now the Sabbath in Israel, and given the circumstances of the Sabbath, the secretary-general has agreed to a request by the foreign minister of Israel that the team should postpone its arrival until Sunday evening."

The Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of a massacre of civilians during eight days of fighting in the Jenin camp. Israel says its army fought with Palestinian gunmen, who were the main victims.

Early Friday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said an initial meeting on Thursday did not produce the clarifications that Israel wanted and ordered clarify problem areas at Friday's meeting.

A diplomat said Thursday's meeting between the Israelis and U.N. officials did not go well and Israel was concerned that the United Nations was unwilling to add any additional full members to the team, only advisers, a key demand of Sharon who was showing no signs of backing down.

Israel insists that the fact-finding group include more military and counter-terrorism experts, that it investigate Palestinian terrorism in the Jenin camp as well as the military incursion, that the probe be limited to Jenin, and that both sides agree on a framework for the team's activities.

Israel also wanted to ensure that the team just found out the facts and didn't draw any conclusions, said Israel's Ambassador to Ireland Mark Sofer, who is acting as a government spokesman in Jerusalem. Diplomats said Israel is concerned that any conclusions could be used in possible legal action against its soldiers.

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