GENEVA - Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said yesterday that Israel has refused him permission to lead a fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Tutu was to begin leading a six-member team over the past weekend in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun to investigate the killings of 19 civilians in an Israeli artillery barrage last month.
But Israel failed to grant them the necessary travel clearance, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner said.
"We find the lack of cooperation by the Israeli government very distressing, as well as its failure to allow the mission timely passage to Israel," Tutu told reporters at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.
"We have, in our view, been turned down."
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said yesterday that no final decision had been made.
"Israel heard that they decided not to come.
"We had not given them a negative response; our final decision was pending," Regev said.
Tutu's response was: "At times not making a decision is making a decision.
"We couldn't wait in limbo indefinitely."
The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town said he had accepted the mission on behalf of the UN human rights council "at short notice".
"We cancelled important commitments to make ourselves available for this task," said Tutu.
He said that he had left the bedside of his wife while she was in a hospital after a knee operation. - Sapa-AP