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UN Recommends International Protection Force for Mideast - 2002-05-03


A now disbanded United Nations fact-finding team set up to investigate the situation at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank has called for a permanent international presence to protect both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

A member of the fact-finding team, Cornelio Sommaruga, says the U.N. mission made its recommendation for an international protection force in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Sommaruga, a former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, says civilians in the Palestinian territories and in Israel must be protected, but he gave no further details.

Mr. Annan formally disbanded the fact-finding team Thursday because of Israel's objections to the mission's composition and mandate.

Mr. Sommaruga told reporters in Geneva that he is disappointed that the U.N. committee could not carry out its mission at the Jenin camp, saying it could have contributed to an easing of tensions in the region.

"We were convinced that we would have been able to carry out our mandate in the best possible way, but we were no more ready to wait," he said. "This is the reason why we understand the decision taken after so many days by the Secretary General. Now, I think that the truth - and we have had so many examples - is finally coming out. By whom, I think your colleagues of the press play a very important role. Organizations, particularly human rights organizations, that are speaking have been on the spot."

Mr. Sommaruga says he believes the mission was scuttled because Israel feared it would find evidence that could be later used in a possible future international tribunal despite U.N. assurances to the contrary.

He also says events at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the end to the siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters, and plans for an international peace conference, detracted from the mission.

Israel's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Yaacov Levy, says he agrees that events overtook the proposed mission. But he says reports from both the media and human rights groups seem to confirm that no massacre took place in the Jenin camp as alleged by the Palestinians.

"I define the first event by which it [the mission] was overtaken as to be the wild allegations that Israel allegedly committed a massacre in the camp," he said. "I think by now it is clear that the foundation for the Palestinian move to establish such a commission, namely the claim that there was an alleged massacre is plain to all, that this [a massacre] did not take place."

However, Mr. Levy says he disagrees with charges made by the group Human Rights Watch that Israeli troops may have committed war crimes in Jenin. He also says that no other country has continually submitted itself to investigations and Israel should not be singled out to be attacked by governments and rights groups.

The U.N. fact-finding team included military, police, and medical experts to look into Israeli military action in Jenin after concerns were raised about civilian deaths and rights violations.

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