On August 30, 2001, UN envoy to the middle east and special UN ambassaodor to the PLO Mr. Terje Larsen, convened a press conference at the Beit Agron International Press Center to express the concern of the UN for the economic plight of the Palestinian Arab population over the past six months. Larsen complained that Israel was taking “draconian” measures against the Arab population which were not justified by Israel’s security situation.
This was Mr. Larsen’s first press conference in Israel since he visited the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin when he declared that what he saw was “horrific beyond belief… “It is totally destroyed, it looks like an earthquake has hit it… Not any objective can justify such action, with colossal suffering”
Larsen’s statements at the time lent weight to the Arab claim that “hundreds” of people had been killed and buried in a “massacre”, claims that were later refuted in a comprehensive UN report issued on August 1, 20002.
In light of the UN report, I asked Mr. Larsen if he would apologize to the people of Israel before Yom Kippur for promulgating the idea of a Jenin massacre.
Larsen said that he did not promulgate any such idea, saying that he was expressing reports that he had heard from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IDF Army spokesman.
Larsen’s spokesman called me aside to say that the word of “hundreds of deaths” in the Jenin camp were communicated by the Israel Foreign Ministry info chief, Gideon Meir and by the IDF spokesman, Mr. Ronn Kitry.
Reached for comment, both Meir and Kitry denied ever having spoken with Larsen, and both called Larsen a liar.
Reacting to Larsen’s comments, Israel prime minister’s press advisor Mr. Raanan Gisin said that Mr. Larsen’s allegations would be worthy of an immediate complaint to the UN Sec’y Gen’l.
It will be recalled that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had suggested in April that Mr. Larsen should be classified as “persona non grata” by the Israeli government.