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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Israel blocks UN Jenin mission
Palestinians in Jenin
Israel says the UN mission is biased against it
The Israeli cabinet has for the time being decided against allowing a United Nations' fact-finding team to visit the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.

It is the third time Israel has delayed accepting the team since the UN decided to send the mission on 19 April.

As long as [Israeli] conditions have not been met there is no possibility to start the inquiry

Israeli Government
The team is due to look into what happened in Jenin during fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants earlier this month.

Israel continued its operation against militants in the West Bank on Tuesday, sending troops and tanks into two villages, while forces began withdrawing from Hebron.

After cabinet discussions on Tuesday morning, the government said concerns regarding the UN mission still needed to be addressed.

"Israel raised a number of issues with the United Nations that are vital for conducting a fair inquiry.

"As long as these conditions have not been met there is no possibility to start the inquiry," a statement said.

Prosecution fears

The BBC's Jennifer Glasse in Jerusalem says Israel is concerned the fact-finding team will issue opinions that could be the basis for future legal action.

Israeli soldiers in Jenin
Israel wants its soldiers to be immune from prosecution

It wants the right to decide which soldiers testify to the mission and is seeking assurances they will be immune from prosecution.

Palestinian officials denounced Israel's decision, saying the UN should impose sanctions on the Jewish state.

"The decision, in itself, is a war crime against the Palestinian people and confirms that massacres have been perpetrated at Jenin camp," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Palestinians claim hundreds of civilians were killed in the camp; Israel denies the charge, insisting about 50 Palestinians - mainly militants - died in nine days of fighting.

West Bank raid

In continuing violence, Israeli forces moved into the villages of Shawarwa, near Bethlehem, and Silat al-Harthiyeh, near Jenin, on Tuesday morning.

The Israeli army said it had arrested six Palestinians in Shawarwa before pulling out.

Palestinian sources said nine Palestinians were detained in Shawarwa and four in Silat al-Harthiyeh.

In Hebron, Israeli tanks and troops began withdrawing from the Palestinian section of the divided city, a day after moving in.

Earlier, tanks surrounded al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron while soldiers searched for wanted Palestinians believed to be hiding inside, the army said.

The army said it went into Hebron on Monday to crush the "terror infrastructure" in the city after Palestinian militants killed four Israelis in a nearby Jewish settlement.

Siege progress

There were signs of progress towards ending Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's isolation on Tuesday as UK, US and Palestinian officials were to hold talks on the fate of six Palestinians wanted by Israel.

Palestinians convicted in a Ramallah court
The convicted Palestinians will be moved to Jericho

Israel has said it will lift its month-long blockade of Mr Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah if the men are guarded by foreign wardens in a Palestinian prison.

Four of the six men have been convicted by a Palestinian court of the killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and sentenced to long jail terms.

Transfer deal

Discussions are focusing on transferring the men - who are inside the compound with Mr Arafat - to a prison near the Palestinian city of Jericho.

Israeli Government officials have suggested that an understanding was reached that if Israel agreed to a deal to free Mr Arafat, the US would support Israel in its stand-off with the UN over Jenin.

In Bethlehem, a fresh round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials was taking place to try to end the month-long siege of the Church of the Nativity.

  Click here for Nativity siege timeline

The Vatican said on Tuesday it was sending a high-ranking envoy to Jerusalem to try to resolve the dispute over the fate of about 200 Palestinians, including 30 armed militants, sheltering inside the church.

The BBC's Orla Guerin reports from Jerusalem
"The inquiry will not happen unless Israeli conditions are met"
Edward Mortimer, adviser to UN Secretary-General
"The next step should be political...we need to get at the causes of these sad events"
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo
"The United Nations has to say whether it is willing to implement its own resolutions"
See also:

30 Apr 02 | Middle East
Profile: Israel's six wanted
30 Apr 02 | Middle East
Pope to send Mid-East envoy
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre'
26 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin tactics under the spotlight
29 Apr 02 | Africa
Tutu condemns Israeli 'apartheid'
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN welcomes UAE Jenin pledge
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Ramallah deal hinges on prisoners
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