Israel Wants UN Fact-Finding Panel to Stick to the Facts

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

Jerusalem ( - Israel will not cooperate with the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Jenin refugee camp unless the 'goalposts' are put back in place according to the original U.N. Security Council resolution 1405, a senior Foreign Ministry official said on Monday.

Israel asked for a further postponement of the committee's arrival on Sunday. The committee plans to investigate what happened in the Jenin refugee camp during an Israeli military operation.

Palestinians accused Israel of perpetrating a massacre in the camp, claiming hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. Israel has denied the charge, saying the number of dead was in the dozens, and most of them were gunmen and bomb-makers. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers died in the fighting there.

"Israel asked for a further postponement because the goalposts were moved form the original U.N. Security Council resolution 1405," said senior Foreign Ministry official Ambassador Mark Sofer.

Israel is seeking certain aspects and clarifications be made to ensure that the fact-finding committee is only out to find facts, Sofer said by telephone.

Sofer declined to say what kinds of assurances Israel is seeking from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, but he added, that Israel had understood from certain statements that were made that the committee intended to broaden its scope.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1405, expressed its concern for the "dire humanitarian situation" of the Palestinian civilian population, called for a lifting of restrictions on the movement of humaniraian organizations and welcomed Annan's initiative "to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team."

"The whole problem of Jenin was that it was a military operation," Sofer said. "Extremists has placed their headquarters there."

"We didn't choose the arena... It was turned into a military stronghold. What we found there was astonishing," he said.

According to Israeli accounts, which oddly enough were corroborated by Palestinian militants in various Arab media, most every building in the center of the camp was booby-trapped as were bodies. Israel also found a number of arms factories.

Two dozen suicide bombers came from Jenin, including Issadin al Masri of Hamas, who blew himself up in the Sbarro pizza restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem last summer, killing 15 and wounding 130 others, including Americans.

Six more bombers from Jenin were stopped before they had a chance to perpetrate their deadly attacks.

Israel has complained about the composition of the fact-finding committee, which did not include any military or counter-terrorism experts.

Israel wants to make sure that the fact-finding committee does not have any power to incriminate any Israeli that participated in the fighting, Sofer said.

"It was a military operation in a built up area," he said. "We could have finished [the operation] within an hour with the air force and artillery. We lost 23 soldiers. We made every effort in every way to minimize civilian casualties."

According to Sofer, the entire battle was documented by video and this will be turned over to the committee if Israel decides to cooperate with it.

Nevertheless, he said, if Israel doesn't receive the clarifications it is seeking, it will not cooperate with the team.

Sofer said that Israelis are wondering why no UN fact-finding committee was sent in during other battles in the world such as the so-called "Black September" in which Jordanian troops killed some 30,000 Palestinians, as a result of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's attempt to overthrow the late King Hussein.

He also asked where the UN and Amnesty International -- which has launched a scathing attack against Israel for the Jenin operation -- were when Israelis were getting blown up in major Israeli cities.