- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

The White House yesterday said President Bush supports an investigation into the battle at the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin, and the U.N. Security Council later unanimously approved a fact-finding mission to the West Bank site where scores were killed before Israel withdrew yesterday.
"He wants the facts to be found," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "I have not heard the president micromanage who should find those facts, but the president is interested in the bottom line and facts."
With U.S. support and a green light from Israel, the Security Council last night approved the mission to Jenin, where Palestinians have accused Israeli forces of massive humanitarian abuses. Israeli officials have strongly denied the accusations.
The resolution says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan may send a "fact-finding team" to gather information on recent events in Jenin, scene of the heaviest fighting since Israeli incursions into the West Bank camp some three weeks ago. It does not specify a time frame for the mission.
U.S. officials earlier had threatened to veto an Arab-drafted measure calling for a formal U.N. investigation of the "massacres" in Jenin. But then Washington presented its own milder text after Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres telephoned Mr. Annan from Washington to say his representatives would be welcome.
Earlier yesterday at the U.S. State Department, Mr. Peres met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and appealed for continued U.S. help in bringing the Middle East back from the brink of war.
"We cannot permit a lull in the situation. It cannot end as it is," Mr. Peres told reporters after the meeting.
"We expect the continuation of the diplomatic, security, economic and humanitarian activities, both by sending a representative of the United States in the near future and, we hope, also the return of the secretary to the region in due course," he said.
Mr. Peres also said the United States should nominate "somebody to have a look how to offer immediate help to the Palestinian people, economically and otherwise."
Although Mr. Bush on Thursday called Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, "a man of peace," yesterday he stopped short of explicitly backing Israel's denials of wrongdoing in Jenin. Instead, the White House took a wait-and-see position by endorsing a full investigation.
Mr. Powell acknowledged increasing U.S. concern over accusations of a humanitarian disaster in Jenin and other Palestinian towns invaded by Israeli armor and troops in the past three weeks.
"We spent quite a bit of time lingering on the humanitarian issue that is becoming uppermost in our mind, and how the international community has to be positioned to assist with humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and economic activity in the territories, once we get to that point," Mr. Powell told reporters.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that, in the phone call with Mr. Annan, Mr. Peres only mentioned a mission to the city of Jenin, but "the secretary-general would hope that any fact-finding mission he sends would have full access to all areas of the West Bank."
The resolution reaffirms previous Mideast resolutions demanding an immediate Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian cities and outlines a blueprint to end the violence and achieve a peace settlement leading to a Palestinian state.
While there has been criticism of Mr. Powell's recent Middle East trip for failing to win either an immediate end to the Israeli military operation or a clear rejection of violence by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr. Peres said the trip was a success.
Mr. Peres cited "the harmonization of the international mind" at a meeting in Madrid last week of Europe, the United Nations, Russia and the United States.
"If there will be disagreement between Europe and the United States and Russia, or disagreement between the United States and the United Nations, we shall feel it in the region," said Mr. Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians in the early 1990s.
He and U.S. officials are uncomfortably aware that European public opinion and official statements have clearly been unsympathetic to Israel and to the United States, seen as Israel's strongest supporter.
The second Powell achievement listed by Mr. Peres "was the tranquilization in the north," where Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas have largely ended a series of rocket attacks on Israeli positions.
"I think since the visit of the secretary to Syria, we can see now a quiet north," Mr. Peres said.
He also called for renewed political efforts to reach peace, including the Saudi plan calling for Israel to give up conquered Arab lands in return for recognition of Israel by all Arab nations.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday dismissed reports of widespread Arab resentment at the United States for its perceived backing of Israel.
"What we are hearing from friends in the Arab world is they want to see the U.S. commitment sustained, and we can tell them the U.S. commitment is there," Mr. Boucher added.
He noted that Mr. Powell met yesterday with Tunisian Foreign Minister Ben Yahia and that President Bush meets next week with King Mohammed of Morocco and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Despite Israeli and U.S. opposition, Mr. Annan Thursday renewed appeals for a "robust" international force in Palestinian territory to halt the latest upsurge of violence that began in September 2000, saying the parties could not calm tensions on their own.
Speakers from some 30 nations, mostly from developing countries, called on the council to move immediately toward that end on Thursday. And yesterday, when the debate resumed, French Ambassador John-David Levitte gave his support and said a "significant American commitment appears to us indispensable."
This article is based in part on wire
service reports.

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