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Sommaruga confirms departure with Jenin team

Sommaruga's participation in the mission caused controversy within the Israeli government. Keystone Archive

The United Nations team investigating events in Jenin plans to depart as scheduled, the former Red Cross chief, Cornelio Sommaruga, has told swissinfo.

This content was published on April 26, 2002 - 15:31

"We are leaving tomorrow (Saturday). There will be no change to the composition of the team," Sommaruga said.

The United Nations refused to give in to pressure from Israel and omit Sommaruga from the high-level mission to the Jenin refugee camp.

Sommaruga, the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, joins the former Finnish president, Marrti Ahtisaari, and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, on the trip.

A number of military, security, legal and human rights experts are also making the trip.

Israeli dissension

Sommaruga's participation in the mission caused controversy within the Israeli government.

Hard line members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, perceive the former ICRC chief to be anti-Israeli, a view dismissed by more moderate ministers. Earlier this week, several Israeli newspapers quoted government sources as saying they were opposed to Sommaruga's participation.

Sharon has been under pressure from hard line members of his cabinet, who are upset that he has agreed to the UN mission.

Opposition to Sommaruga's presence is in line with the Israeli prime minister's decision to sever contacts with the UN envoy to the Middle East, Terje Larsen, who had criticised the Israeli actions in Jenin and described the scenes there as "horrifying beyond belief".

New York talks

Meanwhile, high-level talks are continuing in New York to resolve differences with Israel over the terms of reference of the mission and its full composition.

Israel has been seeking to make the mission's military adviser, retired US Major General William Nash, a full member of the team, and to add military and counter-terrorism experts.

A spokesman for the UN mission confirmed that two military advisers would be appointed, but their identity has not yet been revealed.

Another mission by the International Labour Organisation is also setting off this weekend to investigate working conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

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