Subj: U.N. Employees Send Israel Protest Petition/12/03
Date: 12/3/2002 10:36:24 AM Pacific Standard Time

U.N. Employees Send Israel Protest Petition

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A group of 64 U.N. workers based in Israel, the
West Bank and Gaza Strip (news - web sites) issued a petition Tuesday
calling on Israel to stop what they said has been the harassment,
beating and killing of United Nations (news - web sites) staff.


"For two years, United Nations staff have been subject to escalating
harassment and violence by Israel's military, so that the protection
supposed to be afforded by the blue letters of the U.N. is being
steadily eroded," said the petition, released in Gaza.

Asked about the statement, an Israeli military official said: "We
reject the suggestion Israeli soldiers intentionally try to harass
U.N. personnel. We respect the work of the United Nations, and that
includes our commitment to their safety."

The petition was issued two weeks after Israeli soldiers battling
Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin shot dead
Iain Hook, a project director for the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA).

Israel said the soldiers mistook the Briton for a gunman, and the
army opened an investigation. The army said Palestinian gunmen were
firing from the UNRWA compound during the battle, an allegation the
U.N. agency denied.

Israel released a telephone message an army officer received from
Hook 18 minutes before his death in which the UNRWA official said
Palestinians were trying to break into the compound. UNRWA said they
never succeeded.

In the petition, the signatories slammed what they perceived to be an
attempt by Israel to claim the United Nations was somehow culpable
for Hook's killing.

"In these tragic circumstances, rather than easily uttered regrets,
we expect the Israeli government take the necessary steps to stop the
harassment, beating and killing of U.N. staff," the petition said.


Relations between Israel and U.N. agencies have been rocky for

In the current Palestinian uprising for statehood, U.N. officials
have accused the army of firing on health clinics, schools,
ambulances and other installations run by U.N. agencies.

Israel has in turn accused U.N. officials of letting refugee camps
run by UNWRA be used as safe havens for militants behind suicide
bombings and doing nothing to stop gunmen from firing at Israeli
troops from U.N. installations.

The signatories of the petition said they were writing in their
personal capacities.

They included citizens of the United States, Britain, Ireland,
Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria,
Finland, Spain, Jordan, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Tanzani,
Luxembourg and Colombia.