UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)–Dismissing charges of a massacre–a UN report on Thursday on Israel’s assault in the Jenin refugee camp faulted Israel and the Palestinians for putting civilians in harm’s way.
The cautious report–based on second-hand information rather than an original investigation–which Israel rejected–makes few judgmen’s and does not draw sweeping conclusions. It lists more Israeli than Palestinian abuses–especially Israel’s refusal to let humanitarian workers enter the camp.
Israeli forces went into the Palestinian West Bank on March 29–two days after a suicide bombing in the seaside town of Netanya that killed 29 Israelis. The heaviest fighting was in the Jenin camp during Israel’s "Operation Defensive Shield."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry praised the report–issued by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan–and said it cleared up a "misconception" there had been a massacre. A Palestinian minister said the report identified what happened in Jenin as a crime against humanity.
The report avoided the word "massacre," but dismissed a claim by Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat in mid-April that 500 people had been killed.
"We don’t say there was a massacre. We don’t say there wasn’t a massacre," said a senior UN official briefing reporters. "We deliberately avoid using words like massacre–which have a high emotional charge but no agreed definition. In any case we have not been in a position to make judgmen’s."
The report–however–in an apparent reference to Erekat–said–"A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed–a figure that has not been substantiated in light of the evidence that has emerged."
It said 52 Palestinians died in Jenin–as many as half of them civilians–while Israellost 23 soldiers there. But 497 Palestinians died between March 1 and May 7 in the course of the Israeli incursion into Palestinian cities and towns–including Jenin–the report said–citing UN figures.
The United States said the "report indicates that the original claims of hundreds of deaths were overstated."
"However–we are always concerned when there are any casualties and accusations that humanitarian assistance is thwarted," said Richard Grenell–spokesman for US Ambassador John Negroponte. "Civilians on both sides have suffered too much and we encourage both parties to take concrete steps to prevent terrorism." Tragic Episode
The report dwells on Israel’s arbitrary arrests and detentions–possible use of civilians as human’shields–disproportionate destruction of Palestinian property–curfews and closures and especially attacking ambulances and denying humanitarian access for long periods of time.
Many of those acts were a violation of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in war–the report said.
Militant Palestinian groups reportedly booby-trapped homes–and some 200 fighters were lodged in civilian areas–abuses the United Nations said violated international humanitarian law.
"While some of the facts may be in dispute–I think it is clear that the Palestinian population have suffered and are suffering the humanitarian consequences–which are very severe," Annan told reporters.
"I would hope that both parties will draw the right lessons from this tragic episode and take steps to end the cycle of violence," he said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub said the report "overwhelmingly negates this Palestinian fabrication (of a massacre) and repudiates the malicious lies spread regarding this issue."
"The report clearly establishes that the Palestinian Authority did nothing to prevent terrorism and had failed to fulfill its responsibility and commitment to confront terrorism," Taub said.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath called the survey important. "I know it doesn’t satisfy everybody and it wasn’t done in the way it should have done. But still it identified what happened in Jenin as a crime against humanity."
About 14,000 people lived in Jenin before the attack. The Israeli armed forces said 28 suicide attacks had been planned and launched from Jenin between October 2001 and April 2002.
In addition–Israeli and Palestinian observers agreed that some 200 armed Palestinian militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade–Tanzim–Islamic Jihad and Hamas were using Jenin as a base by April 2002–the report said.
While the conflict had a devastating impact on the Israeli economy–the report said Palestinian life was "paralyzed." It also listed cases of Israeli forces "not respecting the neutrality of medical workers and attacking ambulances."
Annan was asked to prepare the report–based on available sources–by the UN General Assembly after Israel blocked a UN fact-finding mission into Jenin in early May that had been authorized by the 15-member UN Security Council.
Israel refused to contribute to the survey–while the Palestinian Authority did so–along with several other governmen’s–UN agencies and US Jewish groups.