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UN Growing Frustrated Over Jenin Mission - 2002-04-30


The United Nations says it expects a decision Tuesday from Israel on its fact-finding mission to the refugee camp in Jenin, which has been postponed three times pending formal clearance from the Israeli cabinet. The cabinet is scheduled to take up the issue again early Tuesday.

U.N. diplomats are growing more and more frustrated over the much-delayed fact-finding mission. But it appears there is little anyone can do to prod Israel into accepting the investigation of what the Palestinians call a massacre at the Jenin refugee camp, a charge Israel denies.

A U.N. spokesman said early Monday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan remains optimistic that the U.N. team waiting word in Geneva will be allowed into the West Bank.

But by day's end, Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast was forced to deliver to the Security Council some disappointing news. He reported the Israeli cabinet had not met on Monday, as expected, so another delay was inevitable.

Mr. Predergast told reporters the Secretary-General is determined, nonetheless, that the mission will commence. He said, "The Secretary-General's objective remains to deploy the mission to the field as soon as possible so it can complete the task assigned to it in Security Council resolution 1405. Meanwhile, the team [in Geneva] are continuing their preparations."

The Security Council authorized the mission on April 19. Israel initially agreed to let a team look into what happened at Jenin during an Israeli assault, saying it has nothing to hide.

But since then, Israeli officials have demanded changes in the team's mission, in its composition, and guarantees that the fact-finders will not jump to conclusions. Israelis have expressed concern that information gathered by the mission might be used to prosecute Israeli soldiers or government officials on war crimes charges. Israel maintains Jenin was filled with Palestinian fighters and terrorists who perpetuate suicide bombings against Israeli citizens.

Still, diplomats on the Security Council are clearly irked by the delays, saying if Israel indeed has nothing to hide, then why put off the mission. Secretary-General Annan's office would like an answer to that question, too. Besides just getting on with the job, it is also a matter of the U.N.'s image, which envoys say is suffering more damage with every delay.

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