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UN Calls Off Mission to Israel, Palestinian Territories

The United Nations human rights chief has called off a mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories to investigate alleged abuses.

Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson says the mission was canceled because Israel said it could not facilitate such a visit. She stressed that the cooperation of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority were essential for the mission to succeed.

Kevin Boyle serves as Mrs. Robinson's special senior advisor. He says one of the experts appointed to travel with Mrs. Robinson, former Spanish prime minister and foreign minister Felipe Gonzalez, spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Thursday about the mission.

"On the basis of that conversation and the indication from the foreign minister of Israel that the mission would not be facilitated, the decision was taken by the three members of the mission not to proceed with the mission," said Mr. Boyle.

South African labor activist Cyril Ramaphosa would have also traveled with Mrs. Robinson team.

But Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Yaacov Levy, says his country is still studying the possibility of a visit. "We have informed her that the request for a visiting mission to the area is still under consideration pending a decision by the government of Israel," he explained.

Diplomats say that in the past Israel has permitted U.N. investigations in the Palestinian territories, but offered no security or protection.

The 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission, currently meeting in Geneva, voted earlier this month for Mrs. Robinson to head a mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories to look into escalating violence between the two sides.

Earlier this week, the Commission had expressed what it called its deep dismay about the failure of Israel to provide the green-light for the mission to travel.

Mr. Boyle says Mrs. Robinson is still mandated by the Commission to produce a report on the human rights situation. Although he says a visiting mission would have been preferable, he expressed confidence that a thorough report could still be prepared in Geneva.

"It is in that sense not as effective a way to proceed where you must write a report from here," said Mr. Boyle. "But on the other hand, we have direct communication with all the U.N. agencies and the other organizations, many NGOs on the ground."

Mr. Boyle went on to say Mrs. Robinson's team has requested information from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities about the human rights situation taking place.

He says that the report presented next week will acknowledge that Mrs. Robinson has been waiting for a positive response from Israel to begin her mission since April 8.