A United Nations report on Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp rejected on Thursday Palestinian charges of a massacre but faulted Israel for endangering civilians by using heavy weaponry in densely populated areas and keeping out aid and medical workers. (Click here for the full report.)
Palestinians, too, came under criticism in the report, which said 200 armed Palestinian fighters had used the West Bank camp as a base.
The report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan avoided the word "massacre" altogether and dismissed Arab claims that hundreds of Palestinians died in Jenin during Israel's "Operation Defensive Shield," launched March 29 after a wave of suicide bombings in Israel. The heaviest fighting was in Jenin.
"A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed [in Jenin], a figure that has not been substantiated in light of the evidence that has emerged," said the report.
It said 52 Palestinians died in Jenin, as many as half of them civilians, while Israel lost 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. Another 1,447 were wounded, including 538 live ammunition injuries, the report said, citing local health authorities.
Israel: Report clears up 'misconceptions' In response to the report, the Foreign Ministry said it cleared up "misconceptions" that there had been a massacre.
"We understand the report is absolutely categorical, there was no massacre and statements by the Palestinian leadership talking about hundreds of civilians that were killed were nothing more than atrocity propaganda," said Daniel Taub, a senior Foreign Ministry official.
"We think that these findings are extremely important both to clear up misconceptions about what happened in Jenin and also to pave the way to the possibility of restarting dialogue in the future," Taub said.
PA says findings identify 'war crime against humanity' Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Sha'ath called the report "an important step," though it should have been done by a commission.
"I know it does not satisfy everybody ... but still it identifies what happens in Jenin as a war crime against humanity and that is very important," he said.
About 14,000 people lived in Jenin before the attack. The Israeli armed forces claimed 28 suicide attacks had been planned and launched from the Jenin camp between October 200 and April 2002, the report said.
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, it said.
"It is apparent that the violence, specifically terrorist attacks, have caused enormous suffering for the Israeli people and the country's economy," Annan said in the report. But the Palestinian economic life was "paralyzed," he said, adding that both sides had engaged in violence in the West Bank that had "placed civilians in harm's way."
While the Israelis insisted heavy arms were needed to destroy the infrastructure of Palestinian militant groups in the areas it entered, the report said the fighting took place in heavily populated areas, with Israeli forces using tanks, helicopter gunships and armored bulldozers.
Throughout the campaign, civilian Palestinians "suffered severe hardships, compounded in some places by the extensive fighting that occurred during the operation," the report said.
"In many instances, humanitarian workers were not able to reach people in need to assess conditions and deliver necessary assistance because of the sealing of cities, refugee camps and villages," it said.
IDF troops attacked ambulances There were also cases of Israeli forces "not respecting the neutrality of medical and humanitarian workers and attacking ambulances," the report added.
Throughout the Israeli reoccupation, Jenin residents were under a curfew and had their water, electricity and telephones cut off, and one in five ran short on food, the report said.
According to local human rights groups, more than 8,500 Palestinians were arrested between Feb. 27 and May 20, and many of these were held for weeks afterward, the report said.
The 189-nation UN General Assembly asked Annan to prepare the report on May 7, based on publicly available information.
He had initially named a fact-finding team to look into what happened in Jenin after Israel welcomed such a mission and said it had nothing to hide. It did so with the backing of the U.N. Security Council - which counts the United States, Israel's closest ally, among its 15 members.
But Annan called off the mission after the Israelis raised conditions and refused to cooperate if these were not met. That prompted Arab nations to turn to the General Assembly, where they command a majority and Washington has no veto power.
Israel did not cooperate with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as he prepared his report, not even providing him with any information, even though he asked for Jerusalem's help. But public material was supplemented by submissions from governments including the Palestinian Authority, UN agencies and private organizations including human rights and aid groups and U.S. Jewish organizations.
According to Jerusalem sources, Israel's refusal to cooperate "was for the same reason that we did not agree to an investigating committee coming here." Israel assumed the UN inquiry would be tendentious and after it refused cooperation, the General Assembly then mandated Annan to prepare a report in any case.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in the U.S., is expected to meet Thursday night with Annan, for a previously scheduled meeting that will take place only a few hours after Annan's office issues the Jenin report.