Mitchell: US-Led Mission \'Rules Nothing out\' in Probe of Middle East Violence
A US-led fact-finding mission said Tuesday it has "ruled nothing out" in probing the causes of 10 weeks of Palestinian-Israeli violence, adding it will do more than just study documents.
"The purpose of the first visit was precisely to meet with the leaders" (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat), mission leader George Mitchell told reporters after arriving in Egypt from Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Mitchell, a former US senator and mediator in Northern Ireland, who briefed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his first visit, added that the five-member mission will make repeated visits to the region.
"We expect to receive information from the widest possible range of sources. We're going to do whatever is necessary to prepare a full fair and impartial report," he said.
"We certainly will go beyond documents. We've made no decision on how we will proceed with respect to interviews or others.
"But we rule nothing out," he said, adding that press reports indicating everything but documents had been excluded "are incorrect."
In addition to meeting Arafat and Barak, he added that on Monday evening the mission also met with around 40 Palestinian doctors, lawyers, university officials and others.
"I think we have a good sense of the feelings, at least of that element of leadership," he said.
He recalled the purpose of mission is not to assign blame, not to "inflame" the situation.
The investigating body began work two months after being named amid deep divisions between Israel and the Palestinians over its mission.
After Cairo, the panel was scheduled to continue its mission in Amman where it will meet King Abdullah II.
Arafat described the mission as "important to push forward the peace process and protect the peace process."
A Barak spokesman said after the three-hour meeting the prime minister had assured the committee of Israel's "full cooperation and maximum assistance."
Israel long opposed the fact-finding committee, fearing the body would be biased from the start, but the government said Sunday it was reassured after some 10 days of informal talks with commission members.
Palestinians complain that the committee will not go far enough.
At least 321 people have been killed, most of them Palestinian, since the violence exploded in late September over a provocative visit to a holy Jerusalem site by Israel's hardline opposition leader Ariel Sharon.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)