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U.N. delays departure of Jenin mission

A personnel container held aloft by a crane and an Israeli army blimp equipped with a camera hover Monday near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
A personnel container held aloft by a crane and an Israeli army blimp equipped with a camera hover Monday near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United Nations late Tuesday said it was delaying the departure of its fact-finding team to the West Bank town of Jenin after Israel raised concerns about the mission.

The delay came after a meeting between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Yehuda Lancry.

Nevertheless, the United Nations said it expected the team to "be in the Middle East by this Saturday."

The Israeli government Monday decided to delay the arrival of the mission because of fears the probe would go beyond its original mandate. (Full story)

The mission was set to leave shortly and Israel had told the United Nations it welcomed the visit and had "nothing to hide."

Alan Baker, legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the decision to suspend cooperation was taken because the mission's scope was "widening and deepening" to include incidents outside of Jenin.

But, Baker said, Israel was prepared to cooperate with a U.N. fact-finding delegation if Israel and the United Nations can agree on the terms of its mission.

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"We have nothing to hide. We are perfectly prepared to cooperate, but we need a very clear set of terms of reference of this fact-finding team," Baker said.

"We thought that the Israeli side had nothing to hide. Obviously they do," said Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations.

Al-Kidwa said the "facts" had already been established in Jenin: "The camp was mostly or completely obliterated."

Palestinian officials claim hundreds died in what they call a massacre at the camp during Israel's military offensive. Israel vehemently denies the description, saying 50 Palestinians were killed and most of those were fighters. Israel lost 23 of its own soldiers in the fighting.

The Palestinian Authority had offered its full cooperation to what Annan announced Monday would be an "accomplished, highly respected and independent" fact-finding team.

Negotiators meet over Bethlehem standoff

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Bethlehem trying to hammer out an end to the standoff at the Church of the Nativity held two sessions Tuesday and planned to meet again Wednesday at 4 p.m. (9 a.m. ET).

The delegations, along with intermediaries, met near Manger Square where about 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been holed up inside the church for the past three weeks.

The first session lasted about two hours. Israeli and Palestinian sources said the two sides "put their positions on the table."

Palestinians put forth a plan that would allow 30 Palestinians Israel says are terrorists to go into exile in Gaza. At the time, Israelis did not reject the idea.

In the second session, Palestinian sources said the Israelis firmly rebuffed the offer, and the Palestinians said they were shocked by how adamant the Israelis were.

A source said the Palestinians asked for food, medicine and water for those inside the church. They asked for electricity to be restored and to have two bodies in the church removed. Israelis said no to everything, according to the Palestinian source.

Sharon has said Israel would accept a plan under which those not involved in terrorism would be set free. Those whom Israel has accused of terror attacks could face trial in Israel or lifetime exile in a third country. The Palestinians have previously rejected the proposal.

Three Armenian priests left the church Tuesday morning, the IDF said. A placard reading "Help Us" was seen earlier in the courtyard of the church.

Conditions inside the church, considered one of the holiest sites in Christendom, have been described as "grim."

"The news that we're getting from those inside is that the situation is really quite desperate now," said Canon Andrew White, special envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"Food, we are told, ran out a couple of days ago. There is water from a well. The sanitary conditions are terrible. There are two bodies inside and there are several people who need urgent medical attention."

Other developments

  • Three Palestinians believed to be collaborators with Israel were found dead near a place in Hebron in the West Bank where an Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades official was killed late Monday by an Israeli helicopter attack, sources said.
  • The IDF said Tuesday several loud explosions near Arafat's compound in Ramallah on the West Bank came from grenades being detonated. The IDF said the grenades were found inside the compound and were detonated in a safe place. Earlier, residents near the compound reported hearing explosions and said they thought the blasts could be coming from a prison complex adjacent to Arafat's office.
  • In a speech Tuesday via satellite to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Sharon outlined a three-point plan that he said would lead to Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace. (Full story)
  • Palestinian security sources said a 15-year-old boy from Beit Fajjar, a village near Bethlehem, was shot in the chest and killed by Israeli troops because he was outside during a curfew imposed by the military. There was no immediate response from Israel.
  • Israeli forces arrested 26 Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity overnight in areas near Bethlehem and Hebron. The arrests were made in the villages of Tzurif, Hussan, El Khader and Yatta. According to the IDF, all those arrested were transferred to Israeli Security Forces for questioning.
  • At a summit meeting among European and Mediterranean nations in Valencia, Spain, on Tuesday, a Palestinian official said the Palestinian Authority needs $500 million in immediate aid to restore its operations destroyed in the Israeli military campaign (Full story).




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