JERUSALEM -- Israel pressed for changes Wednesday in a U.N. team due to look into its assault of the Jenin refugee camp, calling the investigation biased against it, as U.N. chief Kofi Annan refused to delay the mission.
With a confrontation brewing over the probe, Israel was sending officials to New York to try to persuade the U.N. secretary-general to add military experts to the team and expand the probe's mandate to look at Palestinian suicide bombings.
Annan did not rule out changes to the team, but said they would arrive as scheduled in the region on Saturday. The Palestinians said Israel was trying to sabotage the mission and hide what happened in Jenin camp during the fiercest fighting of Israel's West Bank campaign.
As the U.N. team's members gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, Israel did not say whether it would try to prevent them from reaching Jenin. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel intends to cooperate, but said the team should not travel to the region until its composition and mandate was changed.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials were to hold another round of negotiations to try to resolve a three-week standoff at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Israeli troops have surrounded some 250 Palestinian gunmen in the shrine.
An Israeli soldier shot and seriously wounded an armed Palestinian standing near a window in the church on Wednesday, the army said. The wounded man was evacuated to the hospital, while two other Palestinian policemen from inside the church surrendered, saying they were ill, witnesses said.
The standoff in Bethlehem and another in Ramallah around the offices of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are the two main remaining trouble spots after Israel pulled back from much of the wide-scale offensive it launched last month in the West Bank.
Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen battled for eight days in Jenin camp, the bloodiest battle in Israel's campaign aimed at crushing Palestinian militias. The Palestinians allege Israeli troops massacred civilians in the camp. Israel denies the claim, saying most of those killed were gunmen. So far, 45 bodies have been retrieved, but other bodies may still be buried under the rubble.
Israel agreed to the U.N. resolution that created the fact-finding team on Jenin, saying it had nothing to hide. But Ben-Eliezer insisted Wednesday the team must also investigate Palestinian suicide bombings, saying 137 Israelis were killed in one recent four-week period, most in suicide bombings.
"We hope they (U.N. officials) will take into consideration our positions and they will fix things ... that they are coming to check not check only us but both sides," the defense minister said.
Gideon Meir, a Foreign Ministry official, said the U.N. team aimed only to find fault with Israel. "From our point of view the whole thing is a setup for Israel," Meir said. "Everything is against Israel here. What about the terror attacks?"
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat accused Israel of trying to hide wrongdoing. "Israel wants to sabotage its mission," Erekat said. "I believe that these Israeli practices reflect one thing, that they have a big thing to hide."
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is leading the team, which also includes Cornelio Sommaruga, a former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The team has a military adviser, retired U.S. Gen. William Nash, and a police adviser, Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland.
Israel wants Sommaruga removed. Ben-Eliezer said Monday that Israel wants Nash made a full member of the team.
Israeli media reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had decided not to cooperate with the team. Meir refuted the reports, saying that they came before Annan agreed to hear Israel's position.
Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said Tuesday that Israel could block the team from entering the Jenin refugee camp if it believes the mission is not abiding by its mandate.
Meir said Israel has had bad experiences with U.N. fact-finding missions in the past. "We want to make sure this one is fair," he said.
Israel has had a difficult relationship with the United Nations, which once had a resolution on the books equating Zionism with racism. Relations improved under Annan but were strained again last year after the United Nations admitted it misled Israel about potential evidence in the kidnapping of Israeli troops in south Lebanon. Recent remarks made by Annan's envoy to the Mideast over the Jenin operation infuriated the Israeli government.
Israel's problems with the International Committee of the Red Cross -- which Sommaruga headed from 1987 until 1999 -- have been continual since Israel was first rejected for membership in the organization in 1949. The ICRC recognizes only the cross and the Muslim crescent as official emblems and will not sanction the Jewish star of David as a symbol for relief workers.
The Jenin camp, home to 14,000 Palestinians, is a stronghold of Palestinian militants. Israel says 20 of about 50 Palestinian suicide bombers who have blown themselves up in the past 19 months of fighting were from the Jenin area.
On April 3, Israeli troops entered the camp as part of a three-week military offensive aimed at crushing Palestinian militias.
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