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Commission examines Israeli-Palestinian clashes
U.N. leader meets with members of fact-finding group
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A day after an international fact-finding commission was formed to investigate two months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Monday morning with commission members in New York.
The five-member International Commission on the Middle East-- which met for the first time on Sunday -- is headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and is made up of diplomats from the European Union, Norway, Turkey and the United States.
More fighting in region
The formation of the commission comes as Israeli-Palestinian fighting continued Monday in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood. Overnight, Israeli soldiers shot and killed five Palestinians near the West Bank town of Kalkilyah, according to Israel Defense Forces. An IDF official tells CNN the Palestinians were killed as they tried to leave a Palestinian area after firing on an Israeli car.
The official said those killed were members of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah military wing.
A senior aide to Arafat tells CNN he is furious about the killings, insisting that the Palestinians -- two of whom he said were teenagers -- were unarmed civilians. The aide described the killings as unprovoked and a "massacre."
Two other Palestinians were injured in the clash, according to the aide.
In honor of the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Israel relaxed social and economic restrictions on Palestinians living in Gaza.
Sunday, the Palestinian guerrilla group Hezbollah detonated a roadside bomb in a disputed area along the Israeli-Lebanese border, killing an Israeli soldier and injuring two others. Hezbollah later claimed responsibility for the attack.
The deaths raised the number of people killed since September 28 to 275, a large majority of them Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.
Looking for causes, possible solutions
In October, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak attended an emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, where they agreed to the formation of the international fact-finding commission to investigate the causes of and possible solutions to the violence.
"It's a lot of excellent, well-meaning people who have an impossible job to do," U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Jon Alterman told CNN. "There's no way they can make both sides happy when they're done with their investigation and filing their report."
But other analysts say the commission can help build confidence among leaders in the turbulent region.
"The most important part of the commission is that you have a process that is credible," University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami told CNN. "The Palestinians, in particular, feel that the U.S. has jumped to the conclusion of blaming them first and they have wanted to investigate that."
Indeed, Arafat initially objected to Israel's insistence that the commission be led by a U.S. representative. He said he preferred that the group be headed by a U.N. diplomat.
Currently there is no official timetable for the commission to complete its investigation into what started the fighting and what can be done to end it. Mitchell, who successfully helped to negotiate peace in Northern Ireland, tells CNN possible next steps include separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, talks that could occur as soon as this week.
In a report released Monday, U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson detailed recommendations based on her visit earlier this month to the West Bank and Gaza.
Robinson's report urged establishment of an international monitoring body, saying she was "shocked and dismayed and even devastated" at the plight of Palestinians confronting Israeli forces in the occupied territories.
In addition, Robinson said countries that are part of the Geneva Convention on war should "assume their responsibility" regarding the conduct of forces in the occupied territories.
Meanwhile, Barak's Mideast policies continue to put his political position at risk. The prime minister faces a crucial vote scheduled for Tuesday in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. The vote is the first reading of a bill calling for the Knesset to be dissolved and for new elections.
There is some question whether Barak's shaky political coalition will garner the 61 votes needed to defeat the bill.
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