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Security Council holds open debate of Middle East crisis, Jenin fact-finding

Security Council holds open debate of Middle East crisis, Jenin fact-finding

UN Security Council in session
With the announced cancellation of a United Nations fact-finding mission to Jenin dominating the discussion, the Security Council today held an extended open debate of the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.

Representatives of some 30 countries signed up to take the floor in the debate that began in the afternoon and then broke for closed-door consultations to hear a briefing by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his aides on yesterday's meeting of the diplomatic "Quartet" in Washington D.C. and the three-day UN-Iraq talks at UN Headquarters.

Speaking at the outset, Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Observer for Palestine, strongly condemned Israel's rejection of the fact-finding mission, saying the Council should request the Secretary-General to dispatch the team immediately, and require the two sides to cooperate with it. The Arab Group had tabled a draft along those lines, he said, which had, unfortunately, not gained enough support in the face of opposition by a permanent member of the Council. "The backtracking by the Security Council in the face of Israeli rejection will constitute a genuine scandal," he said, adding that it was "an abdication on the part of the Council of its responsibilities, in addition to the serious political and operational implications on the ground."

Israel's position towards the team "proves beyond any doubt that the Israeli occupation forces have indeed committed unspeakable atrocities against our people, especially in the refugee camp Jenin," Ambassador Al-Kidwa said. The demolition of homes - in some cases when civilians were still inside - as well as the obstruction of medical services and the use of human shields, he stressed, "constitute crimes of war." What remained was to establish their scope. "The world must examine these crimes, and get to the bottom of the facts in full, and must adopt necessary measures in order to prosecute the war criminals," he said.

Israel's Ambassador, Yehuda Lancry, said the Council's resolution on the team had not stipulated that it reach any legal conclusions or make recommendations. "In calling for an examination of the events, Israel did not think it too much to expect that the team address the activities of both sides, including the use of a UN-administered camp as a centre for terrorist activity." He also cited a UN General Assembly resolution on fact-finding missions, which included provisions regarding confidentiality, the right of States to express their views, and the obligation for the fact-finding team to respect local laws and to engage in its mission in cooperation with the parties concerned.

While acknowledging the international community's wish for a report on recent events in Jenin, he said recent press reports "confirmed Israel's position that what occurred in Jenin was an intense battle between the Israeli military and Palestinian terrorists." There were "47 Palestinian gunmen killed, 23 Israeli soldiers killed, and 7 Palestinian civilians, whose deaths we profoundly regret," Ambassador Lancry said, adding that Palestinian officials themselves now cited 56 deaths in the camp. This did not constitute a massacre, and should caution the Council against heeding every call for a probe, he emphasized. At the same time, the Council might also whish to consider why massacres of Israeli civilians did not also merit serious international attention.