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U.N. rejects Palestinian claim

U.N. rejects Palestinian claim

U.N. rejects Palestinian claim

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Aug. 1, 2002 | UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A U.N. report released Thursday found no evidence to support Palestinian claims that Israeli forces massacred up to 500 people in the Jenin refugee camp, but it criticized both sides for putting civilian lives at risk.

The long-awaited report accused Palestinian militants of violating international law by stockpiling weapons and putting fighters among civilians in the densely populated camp. It in turn accused Israel of delaying critical medical and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and raised questions about the massive destruction of homes and buildings in the camp that left 17,000 people homeless.

Israel, which had repeatedly denied any massacre took place, praised the report. The Palestinians called it "an important step."

"It does confirm what we felt all along which was that there was no massacre in Jenin," said Ambassador John Negroponte of the United States, Israel's closest ally.

The report was prepared by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the request of the General Assembly after Israel refused to let a U.N. fact-finding mission probe its military assault on the camp. Israel initially offered to cooperate saying it had "nothing to hide," but later objected to the team's makeup and mandate.

Even though there was no first-hand visit, Annan said he was "confident that the picture painted in this report is a fair representation of a complex reality."

The report was based on information from U.N. officials, private relief organizations, documents in the public domain, the Palestinians, Jordan, Qatar and Spain on behalf of the European Union. Israel did not respond to a request from Annan asking for help in its preparation.

"While some of the facts may be in dispute, I think it is clear that the Palestinian population have suffered and are suffering the humanitarian consequences which are very severe," Annan told reporters as he arrived at U.N. headquarters Thursday.

The violence in Jenin came amid an Israeli offensive across the West Bank launched March 29 after a suicide bombing that killed 29 Israelis. The Jenin camp saw the heaviest fighting, and Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said in mid-April that 500 people had been killed.

But the U.N. report said 52 Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by April 18 -- the same death toll reported by Israel. It called the Palestinian allegation that some 500 were killed "a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of evidence that has emerged."

The U.N. findings mirrored those of Human Rights Watch, which said its experts had found nothing to back allegations of a massacre.

The report said as many as half the Palestinian casualties may have been civilians, but it was impossible to determine a precise figure. Human Rights Watch documented 22 civilian deaths, it noted.

Israel had said dozens of Palestinians -- most of them gunmen -- were killed in the fierce fighting that flattened homes in the center of Jenin camp. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers also were killed in the battle with Palestinian militants.

In a statement Thursday, Israel's Foreign Ministry said the report came about "as the result of false Palestinian propaganda regarding an alleged 'massacre' in Jenin Refugee camp."

"The report overwhelmingly negates this Palestinian fabrication and repudiates the malicious lies spread regarding the issue," it said.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath called the report "an important step. I know it does not satisfy everybody and that it was not done in the way it should be, which is sending a commission to Jenin."

The Palestinians accused Israel of committing "war crimes" and "atrocities" in Jenin and said the key outstanding issue was whether the attacks constituted "a massacre and a crime against humanity."

The report does not mention "war crimes" and the word "massacre" appears only once in the report -- in eyewitness accounts "by survivors of the massacre at Jenin refugee camp" submitted by Jordan's U.N. Mission.

Between March 1 and May 7, the report said 497 Palestinians were killed during Israel's Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank.

Of all the Palestinian cities, the report said Nablus suffered "the most extensive physical damage" during the Israel incursion, especially to the historic old city.

The report singled out the impact on civilians during the entire Israeli operation. "Of particular concern is the use, by combatants on both sides, of violence that placed civilians in harms way," it said.

Israeli forces, it said, were reported "to have used bulldozers, tank shelling and rocket firing, at times from helicopters, in populated areas."

In Jenin, the report said there is no question that Israeli forces encountered heavy Palestinian resistance and that militants violated international law by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas, which the United Nations has repeatedly condemned.

"Clarity and certainty remain elusive, however, on the policy and facts of the (Israeli military's) response to that resistance," it said.



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