Sharon: U.S. Helped Scuttle U.N.'s Jenin Probe

Likening Israel's fight in the Mideast to the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida terrorists, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday credited the Bush administration with helping scuttle plans for a U.N. inquiry into the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp.

"We could have been trapped in a very complicated situation," Sharon said in an evening speech to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization. Insisting there had been "no massacre" at Jenin, Sharon said President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials had been influential in helping get the fact-finding mission disbanded.

Palestinians had urged the inquiry, claiming that the Israelis committed war crimes during the eight-day assault last month and were trying to hide it. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disbanded the team despite Arab opposition to scuttling the fact-finding mission.

In his address, Sharon called claims of atrocities at Jenin "blood libel" and said he "stood firm in order not to allow that Israeli soldiers will be interrogated." He praised U.S. officials for being "active helping us to get out of this complicated situation."

Sharon, speaking one day before he is to meet with Bush at the White House, also defended the Israeli attacks on Palestinian towns and villages, saying the fight against terrorism "is morally and strategically justified anywhere in the world, whether in Afghanistan, Jenin, Nablus, the streets of Washington or Jerusalem."

About 100 protesters sympathetic to the Palestinian cause demonstrated outside the hotel where Sharon spoke, chanting "Free Palestine Free," and carrying placards with messages such as "Sharon: Terrorist of the Year."

Sharon insisted there was no comparison between the Israeli military operations and the "indiscriminate, intentional murder of innocent civilians at the hands of suicide bombers."

The Bush administration has been pushing Sharon to deal with Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians. Sharon, who has often said that no Mideast peace agreement is possible with Arafat, refrained from such statements in his speech, instead saying that "structural reforms in the Palestinian Authority" were needed before peace could be achieved.

"A responsible Palestinian Authority that can advance the cause of peace should not be dependent on the will of one man," he said, without mentioning Arafat by name.