- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

NEW YORK Israeli and Palestinian officials welcomed a U.N. report released yesterday on events at the Jenin refugee camp, a document that gingerly balances criticism of the Palestinians' provocation and Israel's military response.

The report criticizes the Israeli army for using force against civilians, refusing to allow humanitarian or emergency-assistance convoys into military areas, and making use of human shields an action forbidden under international law.

It faults the Palestinian militants for their bombing campaign against Israelis and their use of heavily populated residential areas as a base of operations, endangering civilians.

It said 1,539 Palestinians have died during Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, 52 of them during the anti-terrorism operation in the Jenin camp at the end of March. Of these, it said, half appear to have been civilians.

The Israeli government which had sought to limit the scope of the investigation before pulling the plug on a late-April visit by a U.N. fact-finding mission received the document yesterday with enthusiasm.

"The report justifies Israel's claim there was no massacre" at Jenin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in Washington after a State Department meeting.

But Mr. Peres rejected accusations that Israeli troops had used Palestinians as human shields to enter booby-trapped buildings and noted the Red Cross acknowledged that some Palestinian ambulances were used to transport weapons during the battle.

Residents of the Jenin camp had charged that hundreds of people were buried alive when their homes were bulldozed during the Israeli operation an assertion that has never been substantiated.

The Palestinian Mission to the United Nations refused to comment yesterday. But Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath, speaking to reporters in the West Bank, called the report an important step.

"I know it doesn't satisfy everybody, and it wasn't done in the way it should have been done. But still it identified what happened in Jenin as a crime against humanity," he said.

The report, in fact, does not characterize Israeli actions as a crime against humanity, nor does it describe the Israeli operation in Jenin as a massacre.

"We deliberately avoid using words like 'massacre,' which have a high emotional charge but no agreed definition," a senior U.N. official told reporters yesterday. "In any case, we have not been in a position to make judgments."

This lack of analysis infuriated groups such as Human Rights Watch, which says the debate is not over how many died in the West Bank, but how.

"The argument is not about a massacre, but accountability for abuses," said Peter Bouckaert, who conducted HRW's own evaluation of the Jenin events.

"We know civilians were killed in an unlawful manner, used as human shields, that there was extensive disruption of civilian infrastructure, that humanitarian-aid workers were prevented from getting around. But the U.N. refuses to engage in a legal analysis."

In mid-April, with rhetoric and accusations boiling over, the U.N. Security Council authorized Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send a fact-finding mission to the region to determine what had happened when Israeli forces entered the Jenin camp the previous month.

The Israelis initially agreed, but quickly began imposing conditions and limitations and personnel changes on the international group. Mr. Annan withdrew the team, but the General Assembly asked his office to assemble a report "drawing on available resources and information."

The report is a 16-page compilation of government statements, news stories and accounts from various organizations. It includes a 21-page addendum from the Palestinian Authority quoting journalists, survivors and aid workers about the events they witnessed.

Ben Barber in Washington contributed to this report.

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