The United Nations yesterday released its report on Israel's attack on Jenin in April. The report has been long awaited by Palestinians and by human rights groups who accused the Israeli army of war crimes in the Jenin refugee camp.
However, the new report contained little new information and did not do much to address those accusations. It accused both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants of endangering the lives of civilians.
Human rights groups said yesterday the report was "seriously flawed". The Israeli government welcomed it, saying it repudiated Palestinianclaims there had been a massacre of 500 people in Jenin. The report says at least 52 Palestinians - of whom up to half may have been civilians - and 23 Israeli soldiers died during the fighting in Jenin.
Allegations of a massacre have obscured the issue from the moment they were first made by Palestinian officials without evidence.
The Israeli authorities did not allow the UN to visit Jenin to reseach its report, but investigators from the independent Human Rights Watch organisation (HRW) who did visit the site shortly after the fighting ended, found prima facie evidence of war crimes.
An investigation by The Independent inside Jenin shortly after the fighting unearthed numerous corroborating accounts of atrocities.
Of the many victims whose stories were published on 3 May in The Independent, only Fadwa Jamma, a Palestinian nurse who was shot through the heart while trying to tend a wounded man is mentioned in the new UN report. She was in full uniform and could be clearly seen.
Fourteen-year-old Faris Zeben, who was shot dead by an Israeli tank when he went shopping when the curfew was lifted, is not mentioned.
Nor is Afaf Desuqi, killed when Israeli soldiers blew open the door of her house as she tried to open it for them. Nor Kemal Zughayer, shot dead as he tried to wheel himself up the road in his wheelchair.
The Israeli army's complete bulldozing of an area of housing that measured 400 metres by 500 metres is not described. The report notes that 150 buildings were destroyed.
There is no mention of evidence found by both HRW and Amnesty International that extrajudicial killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers took place.The UN report is carefully worded not to give offence to Israel or its allies. It deliberately draws no conclusions, but only compiles evidence from various sources. It came about after the debacle when a fact-finding mission mandated by the UN security council was refused access to Jenin by the Israeli authorities - who originally said they would cooperate.
Because the UN was refused access, the report is based entirely on evidence from secondary sources, much of it already in the public domain. Despite being invited to, the Israeli government did not provide any evidence.
"Of particular concern is the use, by combatants on both sides, of violence that placed civilians in harm's way," the report says, accusing Palestinian militants of establishing bases in the heavily populated Jenin refugee camp, and the Israeli army of using heavy weaponry on the camp.
"That the Israeli Defence Forces [army] encountered heavy resistance is not in question," the report reads. "Nor is the fact that Palestinian militants...adopted methods which constitute breaches of interntaional law...Clarity and certainty remain elusive, however, on the policy and facts of the IDF response...The government of Israel maintains the IDF 'clearly took all possible measures not to hurt civilian life'...some human rights groups and Palestinian eyewitnesses assert that IDF soldiers did not take all possible measures to avoid hurting civilians, and even used some as human shields."
The use of Palestinians as human shields by the Israeli army in Jenin has been extensively documented, both by human rights organisations and reporters who were on the scene. The UN report consistently gives equal weight to evidence collected on the ground and to Israeli government statements.
The report is at its clearest on Israel's blocking ambulances' and medical workers' access to the wounded, a breach of the Geneva conventions."There is a concensus among humanitarian personnel who were present on the ground that the delays endangered the lives of many wounded and ill," it says. The report notes the targetting of medical personnel like Fadwa Jamma by the Israeli army.
On the number of civilians among the 52 confirmed Palestinian dead, the report is vague. "It is impossible to determine with precision," it says, quoting both the Israeli government's figure of 14, and HRW's of 22.
"The UN's report is seriously flawed," said Miranda Sissons, a co-author of the HRW report on Jenin. "It could have done much more and it doesn't move us forward in trying to establish the truth. It's a good example of the dangers of doing a report with no access to evidence on the ground."
In its response to the report, the Israeli government concentrated on the finding that Palestinian claims of 500 deaths were unfounded.
"The report overwhelmingly negates this Palestinian fabrication and repudiates the malicious lies spread regarding the issue," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"It does confirm what we felt all along which was that there was no massacre in Jenin," said John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the United Nations.The Palestinians, too, welcomed the report, trying to find what they couldin it. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Planning Minister, said: "I know itdoes not satisfy everybody ... but still it identifies what happens in Jeninas a war crime against humanity and that is very important" - although thereport does not mention war crimes.
Kofi Annan said: "While some of the facts may be in dispute, I think it isclear that the Palestinian population have suffered and are suffering thehumanitarian consequences which are very severe".
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