- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday said there is no evidence of an Israeli massacre in Jenin, as reported by Palestinians, and that he hoped a U.N.-appointed investigation would be able to determine what happened.
"Right now I've seen no evidence of mass graves, and I've seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place," Mr. Powell told a congressional panel.
Palestinians say hundreds of fighters and civilians died in Israeli attacks this month, but Israel says it killed about 70, mainly armed fighters, while losing 23 of its own soldiers.
Early today, Israeli tanks rolled into the West Bank city of Hebron, firing in all directions, Palestinian witnesses said. But it was not clear whether the move signaled a full-scale invasion of the city.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment. The witnesses counted seven or eight Israeli tanks moving about half a mile into the city, in the southern part of the West Bank.
During Israel's large-scale military operation in the West Bank, which began March 29 in response to a series of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks, Hebron was left alone while Israeli forces entered most of the other main Palestinian population centers.
Hebron is a constant source of tension. It is the only West Bank city divided into Israeli and Palestinian zones, as Israeli forces control a section of the city where about 450 Israeli settlers live in three enclaves. There are frequent clashes between the two sides.
In Washington, speaking to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, Mr. Powell said he had received a report from Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who visited the Jenin refugee camp last Friday for 3 hours.
"He saw no evidence of a mass grave. He saw no huge cache of bodies," Mr. Powell said.
"Clearly people died in Jenin people who were terrorists died in Jenin and in the prosecution of that battle innocent lives may well have been lost. But I don't know the right answer, I don't know the real answer .
"That's why we thought it was important to get an independent fact-finding group in there. And that's the resolution that we supported in the United Nations last Friday, and the Israeli government also supported that resolution."
After initially backing the investigation, Israel raised objections to the committee of three appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Powell said he spoke Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is "sending a team over to talk to Kofi Annan so that we can put this fact-finding group in the right frame of mind to do their work."
The United Nations said yesterday that its fact-finding team will arrive in Israel on Saturday, as scheduled.
Israel is demanding that military and intelligence experts be included in the panel, saying it was not sufficiently experienced in military affairs and counterterrorism.
The Israelis also rejected what they described as an attempt by Mr. Annan to broaden the inquiry's scope to areas beyond the Jenin refugee camp, site of the most brutal battle in Operation Defensive Shield.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer warned that the U.N. team should not travel to the region until its composition and mandate was changed.
"We hope they will take into consideration our positions and they will fix things that they are coming to check not only us but both sides," he said.
Although the United Nations rejected the Israeli accusations that its team is not qualified, Mr. Annan is preparing a list of additions to be considered for the group, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday.
"He feels it was his team to name," Mr. Eckhard said. "The Israelis indicated to him in advance that they would cooperate with whatever team he named, and those are his people, and that's the end of the discussion."
The fact-finding team will be led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and includes Cornelio Sommaruga, a former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross; and Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Retired American military adviser Gen. William Nash and a police adviser, Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland, have been invited to go along.
The visit has sparked tension in Israel's Cabinet, with Mr. Sharon and Mr. Ben Eliezer taking a harder stance and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, advocating more cooperation.
"Some people don't trust the international community," one Israeli government official said. "They say, 'Who are you to judge us?' But others feel we have nothing to hide and so therefore invite them in."
But all three, including Mr. Peres, apparently agree that the inquiry should not spread beyond Jenin and must include the activities of Palestinian militias operating in the camp.
Israel contends that the camp served as a staging area for two dozen suicide bombings in the past 18 months.
Israeli officials also fear that Mr. Sommaruga is biased against the Jewish state because, as head of the Red Cross, he blocked an Israeli humanitarian group from joining the organization.
"You need people with primarily military expertise to determine whether a threat existed and whether the military operations were the way we described them," said Israel's former U.N. envoy, Dore Gold.
The government wants a defined mandate, Mr. Gold added, because "Israel doesn't want an open-ended vehicle bringing the United Nations into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy."
Israel has always had a difficult relationship with the United Nations, which created the Jewish state in 1948. The Arab- and Muslim-dominated General Assembly in 1975 passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. It remained part of U.N. policy until 1991.
Israeli officials said yesterday that they were acting in self-defense against deadly suicide bombers and that efforts were made to avoid civilian casualties.
They say they welcome the U.N. mission in principle because there is nothing to hide.
U.N. charges that Israel violated international law are vexing for Israel, especially Mr. Sharon, who already faces a possible war-crimes indictment under Belgian law for the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
There is some concern, Israeli officials say, that evidence gathered during the Jenin investigation could someday be used against Israeli officials in Belgium or the newly established International Criminal Court.
"Palestinians and representatives of other countries are waiting to use this mechanism," said Alan Baker, legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Baker said he also had "serious questions" about whether a U.N. panel would be able to undertake an impartial investigation of the operation of the Jenin refugee camp, which has been operated for 50 years by the U.N. Relief and Works Administration.
He said Mrs. Ogata, as the former head of the refugee agency, "certainly does or should know how a refugee camp should be administered."

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