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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 23:47 GMT 00:47 UK
UN to probe Mid-East 'rights abuses'
Palestinian ambulance workers carry the body of a colleague
The Red Cross accuses Israel of destroying ambulances
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By Imogen Foulkes
in Bern

A special sitting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva has voted to send a delegation to the occupied territories to investigate alleged human-rights abuses.

The resolution was passed by a majority of the commission's 53 members despite protests from the Israeli representative and doubts expressed by Australia, the United States and Canada over whether such a mission was appropriate.

The delegation, which is likely to travel to the Middle East next week, will be led by the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson.

The resolution condemned the frightening increase in the loss of life and the invasion of Palestinian cities.

Red Cross protest

After a stormy debate in which the Palestinian delegate accused Israel of committing hideous crimes against the Palestinian people, while the Israeli representative claimed the UN commission had turned against his country, the resolution was passed by 44 votes to two with seven abstentions.

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson will head the delegation
The overwhelming support reflects mounting concern among the international community and among aid agencies about the continuing bloodshed.

Also in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees accused the Israeli army of hampering aid workers trying to provide medical care to civilians.

The ICRC said people had died unnecessarily and protested against what it called the wilful destruction of six of its ambulances and one landcruiser by Israeli tanks.

Mary Robinson is expected to begin her investigation next week, but Israel has never yet co-operated with the Human Rights Commission team in the occupied territories.

So although Mrs Robinson may be able to meet Palestinian leaders during her visit, she is unlikely to be granted any contact with the Israeli authorities.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The morgues are full"
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