UN all set to scrap Jenin probe
New York - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan may cancel his fact-finding mission to probe Israel's assault on the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp, but Washington still hoped for a compromise on Wednesday.
Annan said he would make a decision within the next 24 hours after seeking advice from UN Security Council members, who meet late on Wednesday. But he said he was "inclined to disband" the 20-member team waiting for a go-ahead in Geneva.
Israel's cabinet on Tuesday again failed to give approval to the UN team, after agreeing two weeks ago to the mission looking into its siege of the devastated West Bank camp where Palestinians charge a massacre occurred. Israel denies it.
"There are lots of accusations, lots of rumours. We don't know what is true and what is not," Annan said late on Tuesday. "And I really felt it was in everyone's interest that we clarify this issue as quickly as possible."
But Annan said he could not keep team-members, headed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, waiting in Geneva much longer and that some action was necessary.
Israel has raised a series of objections on the scope and mandate of the team, which Annan said he understood but could not accommodate despite talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
"So I know their concern. I know the anxiety. I know the situation in the country," he said. "But of course we also have to allow the team to do a credible and a competent job."
Peres said Israel was concerned the panel's report could form the basis for war crimes prosecutions against Israeli soldiers. He had presented Annan with six demands, one of which insisted the UN report present no conclusions.
Arab nations, led by Syria and Tunisia, immediately introduced a Security Council resolution that will be discussed late on Wednesday and is opposed by Washington and others.
The document demands Israeli co-operation with the UN mission and threatens undefined measures if this were withheld. The draft is under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for sanctions.
"It is obvious from the objections raised by Israel that it would like to write the UN commission's report itself," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said from Ramallah.
Nevertheless, the United States was in favour of keeping the mission alive. "They want to breathe life into a corpse," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said "we are still working on seeing if they can work out some arrangements" and stressed Annan had not made a final decision.
But Annan's comments came at the end of a day of strong suggestions that the mission was all but over. At best, diplomats said, Annan would agree to resume talks with Israeli officials but in the interim would disband the team.
Israel says suicide bombers came from the now devastated Jenin camp where it sent troops on April 3. Over the next week Israel lost 23 soldiers and says 50 Palestinians, mostly fighters, were killed. But Palestinians contend hundreds of bodies could be buried in rubble left by Israeli bulldozers.
The UN mission was conceived in confusion two weeks ago. Saying it has nothing to hide, Israel consented to a representative chosen by Annan.
But it wanted to avoid Security Council involvement, feeling the mission would then be politicised. However, the United States, seeking to ward off a more stringent Arab-drafted resolution, sought council approval.
After that Israel delayed the team four times while it sought to work out complicated terms of reference. But Peres faced harsh criticism in the cabinet for agreeing to the mission in the first place.