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Annan considers disbanding U.N. Jenin team

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. officials may abandon their investigation into Israel's military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin after the Israeli Cabinet decided Tuesday not to cooperate with the probe.

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U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he wants to discuss the impasse Wednesday with the Security Council, which will make a final decision. One of his aides said earlier in the day Annan was inclined to scrap the mission.

"I have no choice but to share my feelings with the council," Annan said late Tuesday. "We will see how the council reacts ... I will leave this matter to them."

The Security Council adjourned its Tuesday meeting without issuing any public statement on the impasse. It is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET in New York.

Kieran Prendergast, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, told the Security Council earlier that Annan was looking at two options -- scrapping the team or having it conduct its work from Geneva, Switzerland.

After four postponements, meetings, telephone calls and letters, Israel still questioned the fairness of the probe.

Israel's Security Cabinet voted Tuesday not to cooperate -- at least for now -- with the fact-finding team appointed to look into events at the Jenin camp, thereby continuing a diplomatic confrontation over what happened there during the Israeli military operation.

An announcement after the vote said, "Israel presented to the U.N. several matters that are essential to holding a fair probe, but as long as these conditions go unmet, it will be impossible to hold the probe."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warned after the Cabinet meeting that if Israel does not accept the mission soon, the U.N. Security Council may vote for an international inquiry commission.

Peres said he doubted the United States would veto such a resolution. The foreign minister said Israeli officials should admit that humanitarian mistakes were made but that there was no massacre at the Jenin camp.

Israel has raised objections to the U.N. team's makeup, the scope of its mission and its operating rules. (Full story)

Annan said Tuesday he has "done everything" to meet Israeli concerns about the fact-finding mission.

"It was Mr. Peres who had told me we have nothing to hide and the team was welcome. Not just Mr. Peres but also [Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin] Ben-Eliezer told me, 'You're welcome, we have nothing to hide,'" Annan said.

When the Israelis have raised questions regarding the team's military, intelligence and counterterrorism expertise, "we've dealt with that," Annan said.

"So we've really done everything to meet that, to deal with their concerns," he said. "And I think we've been very forthcoming."

Over the past few days, the U.N. Security Council has received briefings from Annan's aides on the Jenin team discussion.

Asked how long he would keep the 20-member U.N. investigative team waiting in Geneva, Annan said it would not remain there "indefinitely."

The group members have not "been twiddling their fingers" and have been doing "some very useful work," he said. The team has been taking dispositions, Annan said.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the United Nations would soon have to decide whether to implement its own resolutions or give in to the Israeli government -- a move that would damage the U.N.'s credibility, he said.

In Brussels, European Union President Romano Prodi rejected Israel's decision and said he would use this weekend's U.S.-EU summit in Washington to ask President Bush to "use his influence to persuade [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon to pull out of all occupied territories and give full cooperation to the international community." (Full story)

"[Israel's] continuing refusal to allow the U.N. fact-finding mission to go ahead in Jenin is unacceptable," Prodi said during a news conference outlining his agenda for the summit.

"If the army has nothing to hide, there is no reason to delay from going forward. For Israel, this is a chance to show the world that it has nothing to hide."

Palestinians say Israel carried out a massacre at the Jenin camp, killing some 500 people. Those allegations have not been independently corroborated.

Israel says "dozens, not hundreds" were killed in intense fighting as its forces attempted to clear out what it called "the fountainhead of suicide bombers."

An official from Human Rights Watch said Sunday his group had documented the cases of 52 people who died in the fighting at the camp and that 21 of those were thought to be noncombatants. That figure does not include the 23 Israeli soldiers killed during the operation.

Figures compiled by aid agencies show 140 of the camp's 1,896 homes were destroyed and another 200 damaged. One-quarter of the camp's population of 13,000 was made homeless, according to the agencies.




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