Security Council Backs U.N. Mission to Look Into Jenin Military Incursion

The Security Council unanimously approved a U.S. resolution Friday supporting a U.N. fact-finding mission to look into Israeli military action in Jenin.

The resolution came after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it would welcome a U.N. representative "to clarify the facts" of what happened in the Jenin refugee camp.

Arab nations have accused Israel of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp but Israel says the deaths and destruction were the result of gunbattles between its soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

Israel's U.N. Mission said Peres told Annan that "Israel has nothing to hide regarding the operation in Jenin," adding "our hands are clean."

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that in the phone call with Annan, Peres only mentioned a mission to the city of Jenin, but "the secretary-general would hope that any fact-finding mission he sends would have full access to all areas of the West Bank."

The resolution also expresses concern at "the dire humanitarian situation" of Palestinian civilians and "emphasizes the urgency of access of medical and humanitarian organizations to the Palestinian civilian population."

It also reaffirms previous Mideast resolutions demanding an immediate Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian cities and outlines a blueprint to end the violence and achieve a peace settlement leading to a Palestinian state.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, called Peres' position positive.

"We hope that we are going to see some effective investigation with clear-cut results to convince the whole world," he said.

Arab nations had been pushing for a vote on a resolution expressing shock at reports of a massacre at Jenin and requesting that Annan to investigate. The United States had threatened to veto it.

Earlier Friday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the Bush administration didn't oppose trying to find out the facts but didn't believe it should be done through a Security Council resolution.

But with the Arabs pressing for a vote on their resolution and the Palestinians saying there was room for compromise, the Americans apparently changed their mind after Peres' call.

The resolution that was adopted "welcomes the intiative of the secretary-general to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team and requests him to keep the Security Council informed."

Israel's U.N. Mission said Peres emphasized that Israel "will fully cooperate" with the U.N. envoy and "that representatives will not be prevented from visiting the place and speaking to its residents."

But Israel stressed that Peres did not suggest or agree to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry.

At a two-day open council meeting on the Arab-backed resolution which ended Friday, many of the 45 nations that spoke called for an investigation into the events at Jenin.

Israel's deputy ambassador Aaron Jacob reiterated at Friday's council meeting that Israel was forced to go into Palestinian cities "to uproot the infrastructure of terror" and denied there had been a "massacre."

"The primary responsibility for the deaths lies with the terrorists," he said.

Many of the nations that spoke — including many of America's friends — said the council needed to address Israel's defiance of its previous demands to withdraw from the West Bank cities and the plight of Palestinian civilians, especially in Jenin.

The Arab draft, now on a back burner, would also have demanded an end to the siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his compound and Palestinian gunmen in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.