1 August – Following a request by the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today released a report on the events surrounding the Israeli military incursions earlier this year into the West Bank town of Jenin and other Palestinian cities in what proved to be the most extensive such operation by Israel in a decade.
“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 is very severe,” the Secretary-General said this morning in response to a reporter’s question as he entered UN Headquarters in New York.
“I would hope that both parties would draw the rights lessons from this tragic episode and take steps to end the cycle of violence, which is killing innocent civilians on both sides,” he said.
The report, which was written without a visit to Jenin or the other Palestinian cities, covers a period from the beginning of March to 7 May, the day the Assembly adopted a resolution decrying Israel's refusal to cooperate with a fact-finding mission proposed by the Secretary-General and backed by the Security Council in order to establish the facts on the ground.
Setting out the context of the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, the report describes the security and humanitarian responsibilities of both parties and charts the rising violence since September 2000, which had by 7 May 2002 resulted in the deaths of 441 Israelis and 1,539 Palestinians.
The consequences of Operation Defensive Shield lasted far longer than its officially announced conclusion on 21 April, the report notes. Much of the fighting took place in areas heavily populated by civilians -- in large part because the armed Palestinian groups sought by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) placed their combatants and installations among civilians -- and in many cases heavy weaponry was used. As a result, the populations of the cities suffered, and continue to suffer, severe hardships.
The report describes the concerns of the Israeli Government that a number of the cities served as bases for Palestinian terrorists and their attacks against Israel. It also points out that Palestinian groups are alleged to have widely booby-trapped civilian homes -- acts which targeted IDF personnel, but also placed civilians in danger. It quotes the Palestinian Authority as acknowledging that a number of Palestinian fighters resisted the Israeli military assault.
On the other hand, the report refers to allegations from the Palestinian Authority and human rights organizations that in the course of its operations the IDF engaged in unlawful killings, the use of human shields, disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests and torture and denial of medical treatment and access. In part, it points to the fact that over 2,800 refugee housing units were damaged and 878 homes were destroyed, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless or in need of shelter rehabilitation. It also cites cases where Israeli forces attacked ambulances or otherwise failed to respect the neutrality of medical and humanitarian workers.
As for the death toll, the findings show that the IDF lost 29 soldiers during Operation Defensive Shield. During the reviewed period, Israel also endured some 16 bombings, the majority of them suicide attacks, resulting in the death of 100 persons and injuries to scores of others.
On the Palestinian side, 497 were killed and 1,447 wounded in the course of the IDF reoccupation of Palestinian areas from 1 March through 7 May and in the immediate aftermath. Most accounts estimate that between 70 and 80 Palestinians, including about 50 civilians, were killed in Nablus, where 4 IDF soldiers lost their lives. In Jenin, by the time of the IDF's withdrawal and the lifting of the curfew on 18 April, at least 52 Palestinians, possibly half of them civilians, and 23 Israeli soldiers were dead. Allegations by a senior Palestinian Authority official that some 500 were killed in Jenin have not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged.
As for the overall impact, the events continue to have tangible repercussions, resulting in the sharp intensification of the hardships faced by the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory. There has been a near complete cessation of all productive activity in the main West Bank centres of manufacturing, construction, commerce and private and public services, exacerbating the severe decline in living standards over the last 18 months. While the UN does not have a mandate to report on conditions in Israel, it is apparent that the violence, especially terrorist attacks, have also caused enormous suffering for the Israeli people and the country's economy.
In its findings, the report relied on "available resources and information," as requested by the Assembly. Such sources included submissions from six UN Member States and Observer Missions, documents in the public domain, and papers submitted by non-governmental organizations.