- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

JENIN, West Bank Palestinian refugees searched for loved ones and possessions yesterday amid the devastation left by the Israeli incursion into this sprawling refugee camp. A U.N. envoy said the attack was unjustified and had caused "colossal suffering."

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to the international community to quickly deploy a "robust" armed force to halt the "descent into bloodletting" by Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli leaders rejected the idea, and the United States said it would use its Security Council veto to prevent such a move.

Near Nablus, in the West Bank, the Israeli military said it had captured Husam Ataf Ali Badran, a Hamas leader. Israel blames the militant organization for more than 100 Israeli deaths in some of the worst suicide bombings in the past year.

Mr. Badran reportedly had a hand in the March 27 Passover bombing in Netanya that triggered the Israeli drive into Palestinian cities and towns. An army statement said his capture "is a significant blow" to Hamas.

Witnesses said he was captured, and three others were killed, in a raid by helicopters firing rockets and machine guns outside the village of Beit Hassan.

Terje Larsen, the U.N. envoy, said 300 buildings were destroyed and 2,000 people were left homeless in the Jenin camp. The camp was the scene of the bloodiest fighting in Israel's three-week campaign to capture or kill armed militants in the West Bank.

"Not any objective can justify such action, with colossal suffering" to civilians, said Mr. Larsen, wearing a blue flak jacket and walking over a broad swathe of pulverized concrete where hundreds of people once lived.

Residents found the remains of two bodies and said one of them appeared to be that of Mahmoud Tawalbeh, the regional leader of militant Islamic Jihad. He had admitted sending suicide bombers to Israel, among them his younger brother. On April 11, Israel reported it believed its forces had killed Tawalbeh.

So far, 30 bodies have been found in Jenin. The Palestinians accuse Israel of a massacre here, but Israel says fewer than 100 persons were killed, most of them militants.

Israel, which lost 23 soldiers in the operation, blames the Palestinians for the carnage, saying the militants refused warnings to evacuate and then booby-trapped themselves and buildings.

Thirty-five decomposing bodies were buried in Nablus when Israel lifted a curfew for three hours.

In New York, Mr. Annan told the Security Council in a closed session that a force large enough to take "decisive action" was essential to ending the deadly cycle of attacks and reprisals in the Middle East.

The multinational force should be assembled by countries willing to supply troops and should have "a robust mandate," he said, adding later, "I expect the United States to play an important role."

He said the Security Council also should authorize the operation of such a force under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which sanctions the use of military force if necessary.

"A multinational force is essential to a gradual restoration of trust between the two sides, which is so vital if further steps toward a broad framework for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace are to be taken," he said.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his country "cannot accept international forces here," although he had previously suggested he would allow U.S. observers to be stationed in the area.

A U.S. official said in New York that the United States would veto any such U.N. resolution. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Washington suffered from "resolution fatigue" and believed there should be more action in the region instead of words from the United Nations.

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