New proposal by Bush to end Arafat siege as Sharon seeks to further delay arrival of U.N. team

Published April 28th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet debated Sunday whether to agree to the start of a U.N. probe into Israel's devastating assault on a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.  


As a U.N. fact-finding team waited in Geneva for the go-ahead to fly to Israel, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the main stumbling block was whether the United Nations or Israel would set the Israeli witness list.  


"Israel will determine who will testify on its behalf," Peres told Israel Radio. "That is the central point."  


Israeli political sources said Sharon would seek a further 24-hour delay in the arrival of a U.N. fact-finding team representing an organization many Israelis view as hostile. The team had been scheduled to arrive Sunday.  


Sharon was quoted as saying that Israel was not yet satisfied with UN answers to its questions about the terms of the mission. 


Israel received a letter from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan responding to its request for clarifications, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Officials said that government legal advisers judged the responses not entirely satisfactory.  


The officials said no cabinet decision was expected before the end of Sunday afternoon. 


On another diplomatic front, Israeli political sources said U.S. President Bush had proposed to Sharon a deal that could end Israel's month-long blockade of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.  


Bush suggested to Sharon in a telephone call Friday that U.S. or British guards act as jailers inside a Palestinian prison for the killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, the sources said.  


Israel has demanded their extradition as a condition for letting Arafat go. An ad hoc Palestinian court in Arafat's compound Thursday convicted four men of killing Zeevi in October and sentenced them to terms ranging from one to 18 years.  


Israel Radio reported that Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh had said it would be unwise for Israel to turn down the U.S. proposal, since the Americans and the British were “Israel's only remaining asset in the diplomatic arena.”  


Other ministers, however, suggested Israel accept the offer on condition that the Americans give Israel full backing in the UN Jenin probe. ( 

© 2002 Al Bawaba (

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