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Israel puts cooperation on hold for U.N. fact-finding commission

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JERUSALEM (BP)–Israel has temporarily withdrawn its participation in a United Nations fact-finding commission, which plans to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian clash in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel was not clear on what the U.N. committee’s mission would be, an Israeli official said April 24.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expanded the committee he appointed earlier in the week to include a retired U.S. general. He said the mission would go forward on schedule, arriving in the region on Saturday.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was quoted as saying that Israel had asked for a postponement of the mission until all sides agreed to its composition and its purpose.

Ben-Eliezer said Israel also wants to know if the committee would inquire about the murder of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks.

Israel initially agreed to the fact-finding committee but withdrew its cooperation the evening of April 23 after questions arose about the committee’s mission.

“We believe that this team can come to Israel to do a job when the terms of reference of the team and members of the team will be agreed [to] with Israel,” an official from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said April 24.

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The purpose of the fact-finding committee, called for in a U.N. Security Council resolution, was to collect information. But Israel was “surprised” when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan suddenly started speaking about “conclusions,” and it became clear that the mission would focus on Israel’s actions instead of both sides, said the official who asked not to be named.

Israel was also bothered by the fact that none of those initially named to the committee had a military background, he added.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, said it welcomed and would fully cooperate with the committee, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said April 24.

“We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Erekat said in a telephone interview. Erekat is one of the few PA officials who is still available for comment after the Israeli military operation.

“We say the Israelis destroyed the refugee camp, used [Palestinians] as human shields [and] has hidden 500 bodies,” Erekat said. “If we’re proven wrong, we’ll accept it. We have nothing to hide. We’ll apologize.”

Israel has released aerial photos showing that about 10 percent of the center of the camp was destroyed. It has accused the Palestinians of using their own people as human shields.

Some 50 bodies have been found among the rubble of the refugee camp since Israel withdrew its troops, following a weeklong counter-terrorism operation.

Israel has said that most of those killed were gunmen who died in fierce house-to-house combat, that the camp was heavily booby-trapped and that 24 Israeli soldiers were killed in the battle.

The mayor of Jenin was quoted April 24 as saying that 150 Palestinians were still missing.
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Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CALLING HOME.