Israel's efforts to defend its conduct in the Jenin refugee camp are fast unravelling with revelations, published in The Independent today, that nearly half of the Palestinian dead identified so far were civilians.
After five days of interviews with survivors of the assault – conducted alongside a Human Rights Watch investigator – detailed accounts have emerged of widespread atrocities committed by Israeli troops inside the camp.
Israel has insisted that it has nothing to hide about the events in Jenin, the scene of eight days of fighting, but its officials say it may bar entry to a UN fact- finding team unless it can determine some of the members and define its terms of reference.
A high-level delegation from Israel is due at UN headquarters to see the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, this morning. UN officials said Mr Annan was unwilling to alter the line-up of the mission's three main members.
They are the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who will lead the team; Cornelio Sommaruga, a former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross; and Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But Mr Annan – who wants the mission to arrive in the region on Saturday – has signalled to the main military advisor attached to the mission, the retired US General William Nash, that he could use additional experts.
Israel wants Mr Annan to add members of the team – such as counter-terrorism and military experts – who will be more sympathetic to Israel's argument that the devastation was necessary to crush Palestinian militia groups, whose suicide bombers have killed many Israelicivilians.
Israel's army says most those killed in Jenin were fighters and that it did everything possible to protect civilians. But The Independent has found that nearly half of the 50 dead identified so far were civilians, including women, the elderly, and children.
They include a nurse in uniform who was shot in the heart as she tried to help a wounded civilian, a 14-year-old boy killed when he tried to buy groceries when a curfew was lifted, and a man in a wheelchair who was shot as he tried to wheel himself up the street and then crushed under a tank.
The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, told a Congressional committee yesterday that he had no evidence that a massacre had occurred.
Officials say that a significant number from the camp are still missing. However, they could be in Israeli detention or in hiding.
Israeli armed forces were in action elsewhere yesterday. Tanks and troops killed three Palestinians in raids on West Bank villages, Palestinian hospital officials in Jenin said.
Negotiations, meanwhile, have been going on for a second day in Bethlehem to try to end the siege of the church, where about 200 people, including Palestinian gunmen, are trapped.Reuse content