Israel Not Expecting Fair Shake from UN Fact-Finders

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is not expecting to get a fair assessment from the United Nations fact-finding commission, which will investigate what happened in the Jenin refugee camp during the six-day Israeli military operation there, sources in Jerusalem said on Monday.

Palestinians claim that a "massacre" took place - an accusation that has been widely reported by the media but has not been substantiated by any independent source.

So far, 43 Palestinian bodies have been discovered. Palestinians charge that hundreds more bodies are buried under the rubble of toppled buildings.

Israel says the fact that 23 of its soldiers died in the Jenin refugee camp proves its claims that "fierce fighting" took place against armed terrorists from house to house and alley to alley.

Israel entered the camp and Palestinian Authority-controlled cities three weeks ago following a spate of deadly suicide bombings in an attempt to arrest wanted militants and collect illegal arms caches, it said.

According to the Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief Works Agency responsible for Palestinian refugee camps, some 800 individual dwellings were destroyed in the Israeli operation, leaving approximately 4,000 people homeless.

In a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Monday, Hanson and Rene Kosirnik, head of International Committee of the Red Cross, spoke about the humanitarian situation in the Jenin camp.

Kosirnik accused Israel of having delayed the entrance of rescue and search teams into the camp and said it was hard to believe that Israel had adhered to international law in regards to the civilian population in the camps.

"When we are confronted with the extent of the destruction that occurred in the Jenin refugee is difficult to accept that international and humanitarian law was observed," Kosirnik said.

Israel has said that the extensive damage was only caused to only about 10 percent of the camp, an area of 100 meters squared.

During and following the fighting, Israel said that it had prevented humanitarian missions and journalists from entering the camp because of extensive booby-traps, which had been laid by Palestinian terrorists to prevent their entry into the camp.

Since Israel left the camp late last week, several civilians have been injured by explosive devices, which remained in the camp, Hansen said.

Humanitarian aid workers had encountered both Palestinian and Israeli "ordnances" in the camp, he added. The army had no immediate comment on the charge that it had left explosives behind.

In relation to the charge that there had been a "massacre" in the camp, Hansen said it "irresponsible" to talk about the numbers of dead until after the fact-finding committee completed its work.

In answer to a question, Hansen downplayed the Israeli charge that the Jenin refugee camp had been a hotbed of terrorist activity that had produced more than 20 suicide bombers.

"Is it a center of terrorism, again we are using labels," Hansen said. "The Israelis have been very much concerned about fear and security," he said.

"They rightly demand from their government to take action. I'm not here to discuss the wisdom of the Israeli government but I would suggest that the action taken will in no way deter [further terrorism]."

No Fair Analysis

Israeli sources in Jerusalem, who did not want to be identified, said they did not believe that Israel would get a fair deal from the fact-finding committee.

There are people with a "certain agenda" and they show pictures of a child in a demolished house, which obviously sends a wrong message, they said. On the other hand, those people don't show the pictures of the Jewish people that got killed in a hotel or a restaurant.

Israel agreed over the weekend to cooperate with a UN fact-finding committee, saying that it had "nothing to hide." But it said it did not want U.N. special envoy Terje Larson or UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson on the team.

Larson, last week, described the situation in the camp to reporters in damning terms, prompting the government to discuss the possibility of declaring him persona non grata .

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari said nevertheless, that Israel would assist the fact-finding team "to find the truth." She said that the problem with looking at the situation in Jenin, was that it was being taken out of context.

"The situation in Jenin is very difficult. They should see for themselves," Ben-Ari said. "All the houses were booby-trapped, prepared as a trap for the Israelis." Israel had 23 dead there, she said. The international community should be more concerned about the re-emergence of terrorism, she added.

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