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UN To Send Fact-Finding Team to Palestinian Refugee Camp - 2002-04-26

The United Nations has said it plans to send a fact-finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on Saturday. The camp was the scene of heavy fighting earlier this month between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary General Kofi Annan played the key role in selecting the fact-finding team. "It's a pretty high level team of people that the secretary general has assembled. It takes some time to bring these people physically together," she said.

The team is expected to total about 15 people. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari will lead it. He will be accompanied by a former chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cornelio Sommaruga, and Sadako Ogata, a former head of the U.N. refugee agency.

Mr. Dujarric also said two military advisers who have yet to be named will be added to the team. They will assist retired U.S. Major General William Nash on military and counter-terrorism issues.

Mr. Dujarric said the team's focus will be on what took place at the refugee camp during an Israeli military offensive earlier this month.

Palestinians have accused the Israeli army of killing hundreds of civilians during eight days of fighting in Jenin. Israel denies this and said most of the Palestinians killed were gunmen who were battling Israeli soldiers.

Israel in the past has withheld its permission for the U.N. mission to Jenin, saying more military experts should be added. Shortly after the mission was announced Friday, Israel asked that it be delayed.

Meanwhile, another U.N. mission heads to the Middle East on Saturday. International Labor Organization experts will investigate employment conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories as part of the agency's ongoing technical cooperation with the region.

The U.N.'s World Health Organization also reports that a plane with medical supplies bound for the Palestinian territories has been blocked by Israel since Tuesday at Amsterdam airport. It says that Israel cites "technical problems" as the reason why it will not allow the plane to land.