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UNHCR to Send Delegation to Mideast - 2002-04-05

Pressed by angry Arab delegations, the U.N. Human Rights Commission voted Friday to immediately send a mission to the Palestinian territories to investigate reports of gross violations. The UNHRC High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, will head the delegation traveling to Israel next week.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission voted 44-2 with seven abstentions to accept a resolution backed by Islamic states to send Mary Robinson posthaste on a trip to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mrs. Robinson will file a report with the Commission on the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

She said she would be guided by the advice of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to ask two prominent international personalities to join her mission, which is not supported by the United States.

Canada and Guatemala were the two countries voting against the resolution. But they are widely believed to represent the United States' position on the matter. For the first time since the Commission was founded in 1947, the United States could not vote because it failed to win re-election to the Commission last year. Israel also is not a member. Its ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Yaacov Levy, called the resolution one-sided.

"It will not contribute to peace and the other fora discussing the subject at this very moment - more appropriate ones - we have the mission of General Zinni on the spot and we are expecting Secretary Powell," he said. "So we feel at this time there is no need for other missions which could very well affect negatively the delicate situation in the area."

Israel has repeatedly rejected proposals put forward by the U.N., Arab states and the Mitchell Report for the positioning of international observers in the Palestinian territories as a means of monitoring and stemming the continuing bloodshed.

Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N., Nabil Ramlawi, welcomed the Commission's decision to send a mission headed by Mrs. Robinson. He argues that Israeli violence has reached an unprecedented, unimaginable level against the Palestinians. He says such a mission will only reinforce international efforts to stop the bloodshed.

"It helps build a sort of public opinion on what is going on, and I think this can be a positive attitude towards the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation," he said.

But in November 2000, shortly after the start of the current Palestinian uprising, a convoy carrying Mrs. Robinson came under sniper fire during a visit to the West Bank town of Hebron. Several diplomats have expressed concern for the safety of such a mission, and it is not clear whether Israel will assist such an investigation.