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UN Report Dismisses Arab Claims About Jenin 'Massacre'

A United Nations report on Israel's April offensive in the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin blames both sides for putting civilians in harm's way. Israel's reaction to the report was positive. The Palestinians expressed disappointment.

The U.N. report dismissed Arab claims that hundreds of Palestinians died in the Jenin attack. It says investigators were able to confirm that 52 Palestinians were killed, and perhaps as many as half of them may have been civilians.

At the same time, the report notes that nearly 500 Palestinians died over a two-month period, from March through May, as a result of the wider Israeli offensive.

The report avoids the word "massacre," a term used by the Palestinians to describe the killings. Edward Mortimer, an advisor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says the evidence does not warrant it.

"We believe that 497 Palestinians died during these two months. They died, of course, in many different places and different circumstances, it is not as though 500 people were assembled in one place and systematically mown down with machine guns," Mr. Mortimer said. "Nothing, as far as we have been able to discover, nothing like that happened. So, whether you call it a massacre or not is essentially an emotive value judgment and that is precisely the kind of judgment that this report sets out not to make."

The report further notes that an estimated 200 Palestinian fighters from various militant groups were using Jenin as a base by April of this year, a charge Israel has made in defense of its actions. It notes that Israelis, too, have suffered casualties, 23 killed at Jenin, some 100 others as a result of terrorist incidents.

Mr. Annan's advisor insists the report is not skewed against the Palestinians. He says the investigation was limited after Israel refused to allow the original team assembled by the secretary-general to visit the area.

"We are extremely sympathetic to the conditions which the Palestinian civilian population are now living in as a result of these events. But we were asked to describe the events themselves and we could only do so in this rather imperfect way," he said.

The U.N. report criticizes the Israelis for barring humanitarian aid groups from entering the Jenin area for several days after the fighting. It further notes that Israeli soldiers, in several instances, violated the neutrality of medical workers by attacking ambulances.

The General Assembly is expected to convene a special meeting to debate the report, which it had requested after Israel blocked the secretary-general's fact-finding mission.