BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
Palestinian women in Jenin
Palestinian women wait for news of their male relatives
test hello test
Jeremy Cooke
By Jeremy Cooke
BBC correspondent in Jenin

The scene inside Jenin refugee camp is one of almost complete devastation - whole blocks of what used to be homes have been laid to waste by Israeli bulldozers.

The Israelis who took us there under their armed protection told us it is still a very dangerous place but that they have managed to succeed in their operation to root out Islamic extremists - the gunmen who dominated the streets of Jenin until just a few days ago.

Many of [the women] told us they still don't know where their men folk are - whether they were arrested... or whether they have died

They say that it was absolutely necessary to bulldoze some of the buildings and insist that the buildings that they have destroyed were occupied by gunmen and not families.

It is very difficult for us to verify that given that all our movements were monitored by the Israelis.

But there is no disguising the fact that this huge level of destruction had taken place.

The women who were on the streets were clearly traumatised - many of them saying that people had been killed in their homes as the Israeli bulldozers moved in.

Agony continues

On the streets of Jenin we see Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and troops on the streets - they will stay there for some time.

We also saw Palestinian women - hardly any men.

The Palestinians who are back there are quite often middle aged women out on the streets trying to find food, often coming up to us in tears.

There was a sense of bewilderment as they gave us their account of what had happened.

Many of them told us they still don't know where their men folk are. Whether they were arrested - the Israelis say 500 arrests were made - or whether they have died.

So for them the agony goes on.

Health problems

There are people still living in the refugee camp.

We asked an Israeli soldier why some people were back after all the fighting. And he answered very frankly that the refugees had come back to their devastated homes simply because they had nowhere else to go.

Jenin boy
Agencies fear diseases such as cholera breaking out

We have seen broken water mains, water gushing into the streets.

Health problems are likely to be an issue unless a clean-up operation starts soon.

Many international aid agencies are requesting free access to the refugee camp - what they want to do is find out how best to help the wounded, what the pressing humanitarian needs might be.

At the moment though the Israelis are still tightly controlling everyone who comes in and out - and access has been very limited.

Huge task

On the streets of Jenin a curfew is in place. We heard sporadic gunfire, but in essence and in effect the Israeli military operation there is pretty much wound up.

The big question which is impossible to answer at the moment is just how many people did die in the Palestinian town.

Israelis put the figure at something like 50 - they base that on the accounts that their own soldiers have given of the fighting which went on for the past two weeks or so.

The Palestinians, though, are still insisting that some 400 people were killed.

From what I've seen it is impossible to verify or contradict either of those accounts.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent are at work trying to pick through the rubble, trying to identify the dead and remove them. But it is going to be a huge task.

And if they do not have the assistance and help of people with heavy lifting equipment then it is going to take days, probably weeks, before the people of Jenin finally get to learn who is still alive and who has died.

The Israelis make no apology about this. They say that more than 50% of the suicide bombers who hit Israel came from this Palestinian town.

Therefore, they say, it was absolutely essential for them to move in to root out what they call the infrastructure of terror and they say that that is effectively what they have done.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke reports from Jenin
"Only the women are on the streets"
Janine di Giovanni of London's Times newspaper
"Twelve years of covering war hadn't prepared me for this place"
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Plea for access to devastated Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church stalemate grinds on
30 Jul 01 | profiles
Fatah: Cornerstone of Arafat's power
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories