Annan accepts Israeli request to delay arrival of Jenin fact-finding mission; Israeli troops leave Qalqilyah
Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank city of Qalqilyah late Friday night, after entering the city and three surrounding villages early Friday morning. During the incursion, three Palestinians were killed.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed to postpone for a day, until Sunday, the arrival in the Middle East of a fact-finding mission into allegations a massacre took place in the Jenin refugee camp, a U.N. official said on Friday.
The Israeli cabinet, unable to meet on Saturday the Jewish Sabbath, was inclined to approve the mission after two days of talks aimed at clarifying its scope and membership, U.N. Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast told reporters.
"The secretary-general has agreed to a request by the foreign minister of Israel that the team should postpone its arrival until Sunday evening," Prendergast said.
Earlier, it was reported that Annan rejected an Israeli request to delay the team's arrival in the region.
Annan said he expects the three-member team and its advisers to arrive in Israel on Saturday as scheduled. "I think our talks are going reasonably well," Annan said. "We are giving them the appropriate clarifications and I do expect the team to leave tomorrow. I don't think there's any reason for further delay."
Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office issued a statement saying an initial meeting on Thursday between an Israeli delegation and UN officials did not produce the clarifications that Israel wanted on the fact-finding mission's composition and mandate.
"Following a meeting today of the various party leaders in the government, the Israeli team in New York ... has been ordered to insist on the points determined before it set out," the statement added.
It went on to say, "The interpretation adopted by Israel prior to the arrival of the commission cannot be reconciled with the mandate in the security council resolution. For the purpose of these clarifications Israel requests that the arrival of the commission be delayed."
Israel’s public television reported Friday night that Israel had proposed that officials would accompany the fact-finding team into the refugee camp. UN officials rejected this proposal outright.
Talks between Israel and the United Nations over a UN fact-finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp were halted on Thursday, after difficulties over a number of major issues, including the scope of the missions mandate and immunity for Israelis testifying.
The talks resumed at noon Friday (1600 GMT).
In a related development, the Israeli army accused Palestinians of piling bodies from an old cemetery into a mass grave in the Jenin refugee camp ahead of the arrival of the UN fact-finding mission.
The army, quoting military intelligence sources, said in a statement posted on its Internet site that the "Palestinians are performing false manipulations in order to show greater damage than was actually inflicted."
"The Palestinians have begun moving bodies buried in the cemetery next to the (Jenin) government hospital prior to operation Defensive Shield into a mass grave of casualties of the operation," the statement was quoted as saying by AFP.
The army said 26 bodies were buried in the Jenin grave following the fierce nine-day battle that ended April 12, but the Palestinians added another 24 corpses from the Jenin hospital cemetery.
"This in order to display a larger number of Palestinian casualties that were allegedly killed during the fighting in the camp," the Israeli army said. "Additionally, members of the Palestinian Authority issued an instruction to stop searching for bodies so that they will be found only in the presence of the UN committee."
The army charged the Palestinian Authority with setting up a special committee on the battle in Jenin to manipulate public opinion for the UN committee's visit. "The Palestinian committee does not hesitate to use acts of deceit and fraud," the army said. (Albawaba.com)
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