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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Israel talks hold up Jenin mission
Bethelehem
Bethlehem: A Palestinian boy watches Israeli soldiers
The Israeli cabinet is discussing whether to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate what Palestinians say was a massacre at the Jenin refugee camp.

The Israeli Government has already delayed the team's arrival twice with objections about its make-up and mandate.

The UN team, due to come to Israel on Sunday, is waiting in Geneva for permission to depart.

Jenin
Jenin: Palestinians claim a massacre took place
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the main stumbling block delaying the start of the mission was what access the United Nations would be given to Israeli soldiers who took part in the West Bank military offensive.

"Israel cannot accept the demand by the United Nations mission to decide which military people it will question," he said.

A BBC correspondent says that some hard talking is expected at the meeting, with right-wingers highly suspicious of the United Nations.

Israeli Government spokesman Arie Mekel on Saturday acknowledged that "some progress" had been made in talks in New York over the terms and composition of the team but stopped short of saying Israel accepted the mission.

The Palestinians claim a massacre of hundreds of people resulted from the 29 March Israeli incursion, while Israel acknowledges only dozens of casualties.

Manhunt

A large Israeli military operation is under way to try to find the Palestinian gunmen who entered a Jewish settlement near the West Bank town of Hebron on Saturday, killing four residents, including a five-year-old girl.

Israeli officials say three Palestinians, disguised as Israeli soldiers, cut through the wire fence surrounding the Adora settlement and shot anyone they came across, before escaping.

Map
Israeli troops say they killed one of the gunmen during a raid on a nearby Arab village.

A BBC Jerusalem correspondent says the attack on the settlement was the most serious since Israel began its recent military offensive in the West Bank.

Early on Sunday, a man opened fire in central Jerusalem, wounding two people, before being arrested by police.

But a police spokesman said that the matter was a personal dispute, and "not a terrorist attack".

Bethlehem talks

Israeli and Palestinian officials are also expected to resume talks to try to resolve the stand-off involving Palestinians holed-up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Nine youths were released from the church on Thursday, along with the bodies of two Palestinians killed in fighting with the Israelis. But about 30 men remain inside.

Israel has been reported as offering them the option of trial here or exile overseas.

In the most recent development, the Islamic militant group Hezbollah offered to exchange captured Israeli soldiers to secure the release of the Palestinians.

In a statement broadcast on a Lebanese television station, the Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said it was willing to negotiate the exchange of four Israelis, held since 2000, through any intermediary.

The statement said Hezbollah also wanted released four more who are in Palestinian custody in Ramallah in connection with last year's killing of the Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Zeevi.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Anstiss
"The main stumbling block appears to be who decides which witnesses to call"
The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Jenin
"The evidence is being destroyed day by day"
See also:

27 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin mission delayed until Sunday
26 Apr 02 | Middle East
Fresh fighting in Bethlehem
25 Apr 02 | Middle East
Zeevi dispute unresolved
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