UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations responded to Israeli demands and added two military officers to a U.N. fact-finding mission Thursday, as the Jewish state sought further clarifications about the team that will look into an Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp.
The Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of a massacre of civilians during eight days of fighting in the Jenin camp. Israel says its army fought intense gunbattles with Palestinian gunmen, who were the main victims.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a three-member panel of fact-finders after Israel gave a green light, saying it had "nothing to hide." But it then objected to the team's makeup and mandate and sought to delay its arrival in the region.
The secretary-general brushed aside Israel's demand for a delay, gave the go-ahead for the team and its advisers to gather in Geneva, and said he still expects the team in the Middle East by Saturday. But he said Israel could send a group to New York to discuss the mission.
On Thursday, Israel's U.N. ambassador Yehuda Lancry and a four-man Israeli team of experts pressed the Israeli concerns — that the U.N. fact-finding group have more military members, that it investigate Palestinian terrorism in the Jenin camp as well as the attacks, and that the probe be limited to Jenin.
"We need some clarifications," Lancry said, going into the meeting.
Earlier in the day, the United Nations added two additional military officers to the U.N. fact-finding mission.
Israel has been seeking to make the mission's military adviser, retired U.S. Maj. Gen. William Nash, a full member of the team, and to add military and counter-terrorism experts.
"It was decided that Gen. Nash will be assisted by two military staff officers and more experts will be brought on board as needed," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
The names and nationalities of the officers were not disclosed.
The Israel delegation includes officials from several ministries.
Israeli officials said there may be a need for additional talks.
"We want this issue resolved," a spokesman at Israel's U.N. Mission said. "As long as it will take, and as many meetings as necessary, we are open to that."
Eckhard said the United Nations hopes "we can wrap this up quickly."
"We are expecting to be able to resolve whatever outstanding issues there may be," he said. "We see this effort this afternoon as one essentially to clarify questions that the Israeli side might have about the mandate and the team. We think we can clarify those things to their satisfaction and the team can get on its way on Saturday."
Eckhard said the team is proceeding on the basis of what Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Annan last Friday — that "Israel expects to fully cooperate with the team."
"We assume we have a green light," Eckhard said.
The team leader is former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and the other members are Cornelio Sommaruga, a former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.