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Israel to Discuss Concerns Over UN Fact Finding Team - 2002-04-24

An Israeli delegation is flying to New York to discuss objections to a United Nations fact-finding team named to investigate Israel's military operation in the Jenin refugee camp.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed to an Israeli request to briefly delay the arrival of the team that will examine the circumstances of the fierce fighting that took place recently between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp.

Senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official Arye Mekel said a group of legal and military experts is flying to New York to discuss with U.N. officials concerns about the makeup of the team being sent to investigate.

"As far as the composition of the team, we think it should include military men who are experts on fighting in such residential areas and not political people as the committee now mostly has," Mr. Mekel said.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said the team's mandate should not only include the military operation, but what he called "the terrorist network that flourished in the Jenin camp."

Israel said 23 Palestinian suicide bombers who killed dozens of Israelis came from Jenin.

The Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called the Israeli move to delay the team's arrival "blackmail."

"This is another flagrant violation of relevant Security Council resolutions and of course a violation of international law," he said. "So this decision either is final, or it is blatant blackmail which will definitely undermine the integrity of the fact-finding process."

Despite the delay in the arrival of the fact-finding team, Mr. Annan's office said he expects the group to be in place in the Middle East by Saturday. The secretary-general also appears willing to add additional experts to the team.

The Palestinians have charged that Israeli troops committed a "massacre" in the Jenin refugee camp, a charge Israel vehemently denies. During heavy fighting, Israeli military bulldozers leveled homes in the center of the camp, leaving about 2,000 refugees homeless.

Israel launched its massive military operation in Jenin and other cities of the West Bank after a series of Palestinian suicide attacks.