Israel Withdraws Cooperation From UN Fact-Finding Committee

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

Jerusalem ( - Israel temporarily withdrew its participation in a United Nations fact-finding commission, which plans to investigate what went on in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel was not clear on what the U.N. committee's mission would be, an Israeli official said on Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expanded the committee he appointed earlier in the week to include a retired U.S. general. He said the mission would go forward on schedule, arriving in the region on Saturday.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was quoted as saying that Israel had asked for a postponement of the mission until all sides agreed to its composition and its purpose.

Ben-Eliezer said Israel also wants to know if the committee would inquire about the murder of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks.

Israel initially agreed to the fact-finding committee but withdrew its cooperation on Tuesday evening after questions arose about the committee's mission.

"We believe that this team can come to Israel to do a job when the terms of reference of the team and members of the team will be agreed [to] with Israel," an official from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

The fact-finding committee, called for in a U.N. Security Council resolution, planned to collect information.

But Israel was "surprised" when Secretary General Kofi Annan suddenly started speaking about "conclusions," and it became clear that the mission would focus on Israel's actions instead of both sides, said the official who asked not to be named.

Israel was also bothered by the fact that none of those initially named to the committee had a military background, he added.

PA welcomes fact-finding

The Palestinian Authority said it welcomed and would fully cooperate with the committee, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday.

"We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Erekat said in a telephone interview. Erekat is one of the few PA officials who is still available for comment after the Israeli military operation.

"We say the Israelis destroyed the refugee camp, used [Palestinians] as human shields [and] has hidden 500 bodies," Erekat said. "If we're proven wrong, we'll accept it. We have nothing to hide. We'll apologize."

Israel has released aerial photos showing that about 10 percent of the center of the camp was destroyed. It has accused the Palestinians of using their own people as human shields.

Some 50 bodies have been found among the rubble of the refugee camp since Israel withdrew its troops, following a weeklong counter-terrorism operation.

Israel has said that most of those killed were gunmen who died in fierce house-to-house combat, that the camp was heavily booby-trapped and that it lost 24 of its own soldiers in the battle for the camp.

The mayor of Jenin was quoted on Wednesday as saying that 150 Palestinians were still missing.

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