Security Council calls for 'fact-finding' mission in Jenin
Peres: Israel approves of U.N. probe
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously late Friday to dispatch a fact-finding team to investigate events in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin during the recent Israeli military action in the West Bank.
The resolution was adopted hours after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and told him Israel would "welcome" a fact-finding mission. Israel has strongly denied Palestinian allegations of a massacre of Jenin residents at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
"Should the secretary-general send someone to look into the facts of what happened in Jenin and elsewhere, it would be welcome," Peres told Annan, according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Djarric.
The resolution passed late Friday expressed concern with "the dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population" and called for the development of "accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team." (Full story)
Its approval came the same day that Israeli forces completed their withdrawal from Jenin and followed two days of debate on the situation in the Middle East.
Palestinians have said Israeli troops killed as many as 500 people during their offensive into the West Bank town, and other Arab states joined the Palestinians in calling for an international investigation into the Israeli actions.
"I believe that we have to have an immediate international commission of inquiry to investigate the massacres committed in Jenin, and I hope the Americans will not veto this resolution from the Security Council," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.
Israel says the death toll in Jenin was about 50, while 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in operations military officials have said were aimed at rooting out a Palestinian terrorist infrastructure responsible for a series of deadly attacks against civilians.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. envoy to the Middle East, visited the Jenin refugee camp Thursday and called the scene "horrifying beyond belief." Roed-Larsen compared it to an earthquake zone. (Inside Jenin)
Visiting U.N. official Peter Hansen, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said the world body would play a role in any probe.
Israel has vehemently denied there was a massacre in Jenin. Capt. Sharon Feingold of the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday the IDF had found 25 bodies so far. She did not say if those bodies were in addition to the ones recovered by humanitarian groups.
"We estimate that there may be a few dozen, if not more, bodies buried under the rubble," she told CNN. "But all these Palestinian lies and allegations about a massacre are complete falsities."
At a White House session with reporters Friday, spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States supported an independent investigation of events at the Jenin refugee camp.
White House considers change in policy
The calls for an international probe came as the Bush administration debated whether to maintain its current Mideast policy. Washington policy makers were debating whether to keep the Tenet security plan and Mitchell political plan or scrap them for a broader U.S.-backed peace initiative designed to break the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.(Full story)
Senior administration officials told CNN no decisions have been made. But the officials acknowledge the president's top advisers are reviewing administration options in light of the meager results of Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip the region and a growing sense that the Tenet and Mitchell plans have failed to move either side toward compromise. (More on Powell's trip)
The Tenet plan is a mutual security agreement drafted by CIA Director George Tenet. The Mitchell Plan is a set of procedures for both sides to follow in pursuit of a final political settlement of nettlesome issues such as boundaries of a Palestinian state, the right of refugees to return and the status of Jerusalem.
Neither the Tenet plan nor the Mitchell plan has ever been implemented. Israel has said Palestinians never complied with Tenet's required cessation of violence and incitement, while the Palestinians have said Israel had never committed to Mitchell's required confidence-building measures, especially a freeze in construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was attempting to hold discussions with both sides. Israeli government sources confirmed that Burns was scheduled to meet with Israeli officials Saturday after holding talks with the Palestinians.
Bush comments on Sharon anger Palestinians
Yet Palestinian officials on Friday publicly scorned U.S. efforts in the Middle East. They were especially angered by President Bush's statement that he believes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is "a man of peace."
The Palestinians expressed doubt that the United States had actually persuaded Sharon to withdraw from the areas it reoccupied during the recent Israeli military campaign.
Bush made his remark about Sharon on Thursday before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about his trip to the Middle East.
"I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace," he said. "I think he wants, I'm confident he wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbors. I mean, he's told that to us here in the Oval Office. He has embraced the notion of two states living side by side."
A few hours later, Arafat, in a telephone interview with Tunisian TV, called Sharon "bloodthirsty" and said "his history is known. His hands are stained in blood."
Israeli actions continue
Israeli forces completed their pullout of Jenin city and refugee camp Friday, Israeli and Palestinian sources said, as Israeli-Palestinian fighting spread for a short time into Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces briefly entered the West Bank town of Qalqilya overnight Thursday for operational purposes, Israeli military sources said. They carried out a number of arrests before leaving.
Three Palestinians were killed overnight during Israeli operations in Gaza, which has escaped largely unscathed in the last three weeks with Israel focusing its operations on the West Bank.
Israeli tanks and troops entered a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Gaza early Friday after its forces came under a grenade attack by Palestinians, the Israeli army said. One Palestinian was killed in the fighting.
The IDF opened fire on a number of armed Palestinians moving toward the Gaza settlement of Netzarim. While searching the area, the soldiers found two bodies of Palestinians dressed in Israeli army uniforms with Kalashnikov rifles.
Later, an explosion went off near a car outside the Gaza settlement of Gush Khatif, the Israeli army said. They believe a person inside the vehicle was killed.
Jewish settlers in Gush Khatif said the explosion was a car bomb, which failed to injure any residents.
The Israeli army said it was not sure if the person inside the car was responsible for the explosion, which happened around 10 a.m. (3 a.m. EDT). It also said it was unclear if the bomb exploded prematurely, while in the person's possession.
Israeli forces also briefly entered the West Bank town of Qalqilya overnight Thursday for operational purposes, Israeli military sources said. They carried out a number of arrests before leaving.
Israel arrests key Hamas officials
In the West Bank, a key leader of the military wing of Hamas in Bethlehem was arrested early Friday by Israeli forces, Palestinian security officials and the IDF said.
The man, Khaled Ibrahim Tafesh, is considered the leader of the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in Bethlehem. The IDF said another Hamas activist was arrested along with Tafesh. Both were transferred to Israeli security services for questioning, the IDF said.
The arrests follow Thursday's Israeli detention of another Hamas leader, Hossam Atef Ali Badran, in Nablus. The IDF said Badran is responsible for some of the deadliest attacks against Israel in the past few years, including last month's Passover bombing. (Full story)
Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and well as attacks against the Israeli military.
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