- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

What was once the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, home for 13,000 people, is now not fit to be a graveyard. The Israelis and Palestinians who died in some of the worst fighting there in the last 18 months have left their story to be told by a U.N. fact-finding team, which is due to arrive in Israel today. Bulldozed buildings, body parts, toys and prayer mats wrapped in rubble have replaced what was once the heart of the camp. By the time the nine-day battle was done, 23 Israeli soldiers lay dead, Israel reported it had killed an estimated 70 Palestinians, and the United Nations estimates that more than 2,000 refugees are homeless.

What happened in the Jenin camp "has caused enormous suffering for thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians," Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said after visiting the camp yesterday. "It is critically important that full and immediate access be ensured for United Nations relief agencies." The same day as Mr. Burns' visit, Israel decided not to block a decision by the U.N. Security Council to send a committee to investigate what happened during the battle, a commendable move indicating that Israel has nothing to hide. Israel is now backtracking, however, and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer has warned that the U.N. team should not travel to the region until those on the team are replaced. Israel wants the team, chosen by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to include members with more military and counterterrorism expertise.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said about Mr. Annan: "He feels it was his team to name. 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."

Israel also wants to ensure that the mandate of the investigation does not extend beyond the Jenin camp. This is a fair demand, and one that will keep the United Nations focused on helping the victims of Jenin. However, deliberations on whether those of the U.N.-picked team have enough military experience should not keep the investigation from starting immediately. Israel should be encouraged that Mr. Annan elevated a retired American military adviser, Maj. Gen. William Nash, a man whose strong military credentials cannot be denied, to full membership on the team. He was a platoon leader in Vietnam, an armored brigade commander in Operation Desert Storm and, in 1996, commanded Task Force Eagle, a division of 25,000 soldiers from 12 nations whose mandate it was to enforce the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia.

"What we are seeing here is horrifying, horrifying scenes of human suffering," the highest-ranking U.N. Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said from the camp last week. For Israel, for the Palestinians, nothing should prevent the United Nations from aiding the refugees of Jenin and from investigating what happened there as soon as possible.

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