KARNI CROSSING, Gaza Strip, March 21 (AP) -- A U.S.-led commission of inquiry into Israeli-Palestinian fighting toured the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, watching as Israeli bulldozers cleared land around a military outpost and Palestinian youths stoned Israeli soldiers.

The panel members, headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, witnessed the scene as their car passed the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Karni has been a site of intense Israeli-Palestinian clashes, with several Palestinian rock-throwers killed there, especially in the first stage of the clashes.

Earlier Wednesday, the commission met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. Later in the day, panel members were to hold talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The commission, which is investigating the cause of the fighting, has already visited the region once and received reports from both sides.

The Palestinians have said the fighting was triggered by a visit by then-opposition Ariel Sharon to a disputed Jerusalem shrine on Sept. 28.

Palestinians have said Sharon's visit, intended to assert Israeli sovereignty claims to the site, was a provocation.

Israel has said the violence was orchestrated by Arafat's Palestinian Authority. In a report to the Mitchell commission submitted Tuesday, Israel cited the Palestinian communications minister, Emad Falouji, who said in a speech earlier this month that the uprising was planned and not a spontaneous outburst.

Falouji has said he was misquoted.

Mitchell said after his meeting with Peres on Wednesday that Israeli officials ``responded fully, openly and frankly to our questions and we are pleased with the level of cooperation.''

Peres said he believed the commission should not try to affix blame, ``but look for ways of how to save the situation from falling apart.''

In six months of fighting, 430 people have been killed, including 352 Palestinians, 59 Israeli Jews and 19 others. In trying to quell the violence, Israel has imposed stringent travel restrictions on nearly 3 million Palestinians.

Peres said he opposed Palestinian attempts to persuade the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in the area to protect Palestinian civilians. Peres said such a force would be ineffective. ``I would rather invest the money to improve the economy than for the creation of an imaginary force that will only add irritation to irritation,'' he said.

Later Wednesday, the commission traveled through the massive concrete slabs at the Karni crossing. Commission members watched from inside their car as about 20 Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers who did not respond.

Two Israeli army jeeps led the delegation's car around an army watchtower guarded by seven tanks tucked behind sand mounds. The commission found that electricity lines had been cut in the area, knocking out power to some Palestinian homes.

Two bulldozers nearby were clearing more land, apparently to deprive Palestinian gunmen of cover in possible attacks on Israeli positions. Behind sandbagged shelters Israeli soldiers stood on the rooftops of Palestinian homes. On its way to the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Yunis, the commission had to use a bypass road because the main highway running north and south through the Gaza Strip is still closed near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom. The Mitchell commission will stay in the area through Sunday and also meet with Sharon, now Israel's prime minister.
more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad