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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
Israel delays UN mission to Jenin
European politicians tour the Jenin camp
The assault on Jenin caused an international outcry
The United Nations has agreed to an Israeli request to delay its investigation into the army's offensive against the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

We don't want to end up with some kind of diplomatic Frankenstein's monster

Dore Gold
Israeli Government adviser

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed to postpone the fact-finding team's departure to allow consultations on its composition to take place, a statement from Mr Annan's office said.

"But he expects the team to be in the Middle East by this Saturday," it added.

Mr Annan did not rule out including "additional experts as might be deemed necessary," the statement said.

Israel has vehemently denied Palestinian claims that the army massacred hundreds of civilians during the 10-day operation in Jenin.

Israeli demands

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Lancry, said the UN team's mandate should cover not only the Israeli operation but also "the terrorist network which has flourished in the Jenin refugee camp".

Smoke and flames come from the church
Conditions inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity are deteriorating
"We consider the team should be more balanced and should include military and counter-terrorist experts," he said after talks with Mr Annan.

The Palestinian observer at the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, condemned the Israeli decision, saying "we thought the Israeli side did not have anything to hide but obviously they do".

Israel and the Palestinians dispute the death toll in Jenin, scene of the heaviest fighting in Israel's West Bank offensive aimed at rooting out Palestinian militants.

The UN Security Council held an emergency session on Tuesday to discuss the Israeli decision on the fact-finding mission.

Council President Sergei Lavrov said council members expected "fast implementation" of the UN resolution adopted on Friday which approved the mission.

They also warned Israel that no harm must come to the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Inquiry team

Mr Annan named former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to lead the UN inquiry at the Jenin refugee camp.

A negotiator signals to those inside the church to be let in
Negotiators are hoping for a breakthrough
The team would also include Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UN developments came after a day of Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at ending the siege at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

There was no breakthrough, but Palestinian negotiators said that progress had been made and more talks were planned for Wednesday.

In further violence on Tuesday, the Israeli military said soldiers shot dead three Palestinians who tried to break into the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.

Solana visit

The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana is due to leave for the West Bank shortly, after Israel said it would allow an EU team to meet Mr Arafat in his besieged Ramallah compound.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian official Salah Taamari said that there were still "some tough points" for both sides to tackle.

A BBC correspondent says the sticking point is the fate of about 30 armed Palestinians inside the church who Israel says are wanted militants.

Israel wants them sent into exile or tried in an Israeli court, while the Palestinians want them to be disarmed and allowed to go to the Gaza Strip under international escort.

An Israeli army spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Rafowicz, said they believed there were about 230 armed Palestinians in the Church of the Nativity, of whom 35 to 40 are considered "senior terrorists".

With them are up to 30 church officials and 50 Palestinian teenagers, plus two 10-year-old boys, he said.

Conditions inside are understood to be harsh, with poor hygiene and limited food and water.

Earlier on Tuesday, masked Palestinians shot dead three suspected informers in Hebron after a local head of the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade was killed in an Israeli missile strike.

Israel also imposed new travel restrictions in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and made some minor incursions, which raised fears among Palestinians that Gaza could be the next target for an Israeli military campaign.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Palestinians allege that Israel is trying to hide the truth"
Israeli Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker
"It's not a question of objecting, it was imposed on us"
Ariel Sharon adviser Dore Gold
"Nobody wants to create a diplomatic trap for the state of Israel"
Palestinian representative to the UN Nasser Al-Kidwa
"We thought the Israeli side did not have anything to hide, obviously they do"
See also:

23 Apr 02 | Middle East
Revenge killings follow Hebron strike
21 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinians flee Bethlehem church
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Church with a turbulent history
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
18 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin camp 'horrific beyond belief'
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