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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 00:50 GMT 01:50 UK
UN abandons Jenin probe
Women outside their damaged house in Jenin
Houses were reduced to rubble in the army offensive
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has confirmed that he intends to disband the planned fact-finding mission into what happened at the Jenin refugee camp during the recent Israeli offensive.

The move follows days of wrangling and delays to the mission after Israel raised a series of objections to its mandate.

Jenin
Israel: Says it killed 52 people, mainly gunmen, in pitched battles, losing 23 of its own soldiers
Palestinians: Say hundreds of civilians were massacred
British military expert: Believes Israel's casualty estimate closer to the truth but detects evidence of other war crimes

The Palestinians allege that a massacre took place at the camp during the week-long assault there - something Israel denies.

In a letter to the 15-member body, Kofi Annan said he intended to disband the UN mission on Thursday. The letter was delivered as the Council began to discuss the issue.

With US backing, the Council had already appointed former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to lead the 20-member mission. He and his team had gathered in Geneva waiting to be given the go-ahead.

Truth unknown

Announcing the decision Mr Annan said he regretted that abandoning the mission meant "the long shadow cast by recent events in the Jenin refugee camp will remain."

He also warned that with the situation in the West Bank constantly changing, "it will become more and more difficult to establish with any confidence or accuracy the recent events that took place there".

Ariel Sharon
Sharon insists Israel has nothing to hide

When the plan for the mission was first mooted Israel had welcomed the idea, insisting it had nothing to hide.

But there was soon a change of heart, with Israel demanding changes in both the team's make-up and terms of reference.

Speaking on ABC television's "Nightline" on Wednesday Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected allegations that his government were trying to hide a massacre.

"We do not have anything to hide. The Israeli armed forces have got very high values," he said.

Bias accusations

He also accused the UN of anti-Israeli bias. "I never saw that the United Nations was so determined to send fact-finding commission to other places," he said.

"They didn't send to see what happened in the Passover Eve when 28 people were killed," he added, referring to a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Netanya.

Poster of Palestinian fighter in Jenin
Israel claims Jenin was a hotbed of terrorist activity

In Washington, the Bush administration expressed regret over the abandoning of the mission.

"The US and other UN Security Council members worked to facilitate an agreement concerning Secretary-General Annan's initiative. We regret that it did not work out," said Sean McCormack, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel blocks UN Jenin mission
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre'
20 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Return to Jenin
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