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UN resists Israeli pressure to dump Sommaruga

Cornelio Sommaruga (centre) has been chosen to probe Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp

Switzerland's Cornelio Sommaruga is to take part in a United Nations fact-finding mission to the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin, despite Israeli objections.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, is pressing ahead with the mission despite Israel’s insistence that Sommaruga – the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – be dropped from the three-member team that will probe Israel’s assault on the Jenin refugee camp.

Annan has refused to negotiate over the composition of the team, which also includes the former Finnish president, Marti Ahtisaari, and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata.

The three are due to meet in Geneva on Wednesday before heading off to Jenin on Saturday. Sommaruga refused to comment on the mission, saying it was too delicate to discuss.

Difficult relationship

Israel has not explained precisely why it objects to Sommaruga, saying only that the team had been chosen without consulting Israel and that the members were political appointees and not from a military background as Israel had requested.

Analysts say the objections over Sommaruga have to do with his frequent criticisms of Israel as well as the country’s difficult relationship with the ICRC.

Israel was first rejected for membership of the organisation in 1949 as a result of lobbying by Muslim countries.

And problems have persisted: a recent acrimonious dispute concerned the ICRC emblem, which Israel wanted to include the Star of David. The ICRC only recognises the Christian crucifix and the Muslim crescent as emblems.

Pressure on the UN

Israel is continuing to try to influence the composition of the team – an Israeli delegation is heading for New York on Wednesday to try to persuade Annan to add military experts to the team.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry, who met Annan, said Israel also wanted assurances that the team would confine its activities to Jenin, and undertake an
investigation of Palestinian terrorist activities in the refugee camp.

Gideon Meir, an Israeli foreign ministry official, said the fact-finding team’s main goal was to find fault with Israel. “From our point of view the whole thing is a set-up for Israel. Everything is against Israel here but what about the terror attacks?”

The Palestinians accuse Israel of carrying out a massacre during a week of fierce fighting in the Jenin camp, which is home to 14,000 Palestinians. However, Israel has denied the allegations, saying most of those killed were gunmen.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR