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Israeli intransigence leaves UN red-faced

Switzerland's Cornelio Sommaruga (right) and Martti Ahtisaari have spent a week waiting for permission to go to Jenin


As Switzerland prepares to join the United Nations, the world body is suffering from a major credibility crisis over Israel's attack on Jenin.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, decided on Wednesday to abandon efforts to send a fact-finding mission into the Jenin refugee camp to investigate an alleged Israeli massacre.

Given Israel's opposition to the probe, he said he saw no way it could carry out its investigation in the near future.

The events in Israel over the past week have many Swiss wondering whether the UN, which they will join in September, has any power worth influencing. Swiss opponents of UN membership have long argued that the country would be powerless to influence the actions of the world body, if it joined.

Sceptics say the organisation clearly has no real power, since Israel has succeeded in keeping the UN mission out of Jenin - the site of an alleged massacre of Palestinians by Israeli troops - despite heavy pressure from both Annan, and the Security Council.

But Swiss political analyst, Curt Gasteyger, said it would be a mistake to judge the UN's effectiveness based solely on this situation.

"Even the US has problems..."

"I think we shouldn't rush to judgement as to the efficiency, the utility and the usefulness of the UN," he told swissinfo. "The Middle East is one of the most difficult and tricky issues that the UN, and the world in general, is confronted with... Even the United States has had tremendous problems... with its ally Israel."

As far as Switzerland's likely influence in the world body is concerned, Gasteyger warned against expecting too much.

"It's not a vain hope, but it's probably a rather optimistic if not exaggerated hope, because after all Switzerland is a small country.

He added that Switzerland's role as the repository nation of the Geneva Conventions - something Swiss foreign minister Joseph Deiss has been emphasising in recent weeks - was unlikely to give the country any additional clout.

"Switzerland certainly has a tradition of protecting human rights and [providing] humanitarian aid, but it is one member among 190 other members."

Handpicked by Kofi Annan

Switzerland has been watching the Jenin mission closely because one of the delegates - handpicked by Kofi Annan - is a respected Swiss figure: the former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cornelio Sommaruga.

Israel last week said it wanted Sommaruga dropped from the team - a demand that Annan refused. The UN is now considering whether to cancel the mission.

On Wednesday, Palestinian officials said 58 bodies had been recovered from the Jenin camp so far. The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights said in a preliminary report on Wednesday that as of last week, the Jenin hospital had received 30 bodies from the camp.

Palestinian officials have alleged that Israeli troops massacred civilians at the camp in fighting from April 3-11.

Israel claims that a dozen Palestinians were killed, most of them gunmen who died in fierce house-to-house combat with Israeli troops.


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