Annan Calls Off U.N. Mission to Jenin

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan abandoned efforts Wednesday to send a fact-finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp after Israel first gave a green light and then said the mission was biased.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Annan said the team would be disbanded on Thursday.

Annan initially appointed the three-member team of fact-finders April 19 with the assurance of Israeli cooperation, but then ran into Israeli objections over the group's composition and mandate.

The council met late Wednesday night, with Arab nations pressing for a vote on a draft resolution requesting that Annan send the fact-finding team and demanding that Israel cooperate. The Syrian-Tunisian draft also demands that Israel end its siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The United States proposed a draft which would put the council on record as regretting Israel's decision "not to cooperate" with the team and supporting Annan's decision to disband it. Annan would be asked to keep the council informed as accurate information regarding recent events in Jenin becomes available.

A rival Irish draft would deplore Israel's action — not regret it.

After Israel's security Cabinet announced that it couldn't accept the team without a major overhaul, the secretary-general told the council, "It seems evident that the team will not be able to proceed to the area to begin its mission in the near future."

Annan said he regrets not being able to provide information requested by the council on the Israeli attack, "and especially that the long shadow cast by recent events in the Jenin refugee camp will remain in the absence of such a fact-finding exercise."

The secretary-general also noted that time was "a critical factor."

"With the situation in the Jenin refugee camp changing by the day, it will become more and more difficult to establish with any confidence or accuracy the 'recent events' that took place there," he said.

"For these reasons, it is my intention to disband the fact-finding team tomorrow," he said Wednesday.

The Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of a massacre of civilians during eight days of fighting that left part of the Jenin camp in rubble. Israel says its army fought intense gunbattles with Palestinian gunmen, who were the main victims, stressing that 26 suicide bombers came from Jenin.

The draft resolution favored by Arab members calls for Israel to immediately accept the fact-finding team. If it is rejected, the draft would authorize the council to act under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter which allows the use of military force.

A resolution in this form would almost certainly be vetoed by the United States, Israel's closest ally.

"The United States and others worked to implement the secretary-general's initiative, and we regret that it didn't come to fruition," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.

Annan appointed former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to head the team which includes Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Retired U.S. Maj. Gen. William Nash was named senior military adviser and Assistant Irish police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald senior police adviser, and two additional military and police experts were added to address Israeli concerns.

The team gathered in Geneva a week ago and was supposed to arrive in the Middle East on Saturday.

Blaming Israel for Annan's decision to disband the team, Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, reiterated the Palestinian contention that Israel committed "war crimes" during the Jenin attack. "What is left to be know is the scope of the killing," he said, and whether it is "tantamount to a massacre."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that Israel feels "there was an attempt to put a blood libel against her," saying thousands died, when 26 Israeli soldiers were killed, 45 armed Palestinians — "and I regret it" — seven civilians.

After two days of meetings last week between U.N. and Israeli officials, Annan said he wrote a letter to Peres in which "I felt I clarified the issues and dealt with their concerns," but that was not the case.

Over the past week, Annan was in telephone contact with Peres, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He made his final decision after a flurry of phone calls on Wednesday morning.

In addition to questions over the composition of the team, Israel queried the scope of the inquiry, who could be called as a witness, and what documents would be presented to the panel.

Israel insisted that its soldiers be protected from prosecution. It wanted more counterterrorism experts to be added to the group, and demanded that activities by Palestinian militants in the camp also be scrutinized.