UNITED NATIONS -- A long-awaited U.N. report rejects Palestinian claims that Israeli forces carried out a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, but it criticizes both sides for putting civilian lives at risk, Western diplomats said.
Israel, which had repeatedly denied any massacre took place, praised the report, prepared by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and due for release Thursday. Annan began gathering the report after Israel refused to let a U.N. fact-finding mission probe its military assault on the camp.
The violence in Jenin came during an Israeli offensive across the West Bank launched on March 29 after a suicide bombing that killed 29 Israelis. The Jenin camp saw the heaviest fighting, and Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said in mid-April that 500 people had been killed.
But the U.N. report said 52 Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by April 18, and that up to half may have been civilians. It called the Palestinian allegation that some 500 were killed "a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of evidence that has emerged," the diplomats said Wednesday.
The U.N. findings mirrored those of Human Rights Watch, which said its experts had found nothing to back allegations of an Israeli army massacre. Human rights groups have said 22 civilians were killed in Jenin.
Israel had said dozens of Palestinians -- most of them gunmen -- were killed in the fierce fighting that flattened homes in the center of Jenin camp. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers were also killed in the battle with Palestinian militants.
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