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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Aid held up outside Jenin
Israeli helicopter hovers above Jenin on Tuesday
Israeli officers fear Jenin crisis could sway world opinion
Further heavy fighting has blocked an attempt by international aid agencies to deliver urgently needed supplies to the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin in the West Bank.

The camp, which is home to about 14,000 refugees, has been cut off for days since Israeli soldiers began searching for militants there. Scores of Palestinians, as well as many Israeli soldiers, are now believed to have been killed there.

An aid convoy from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) managed to enter Jenin on Tuesday, but was only able to distribute aid to the town as Israeli troops barred access to the camp without explanation.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, however, an aid convoy managed to deliver food and medicines to the embattled city of Nablus.

Israeli soldiers allowed two lorries to enter after hours of negotiation during which reporters were turned back.

Dan Simmons, the agency's director in Jerusalem, said in a phone call from the scene that Nablus resembled a "war zone" with its empty streets.

As he spoke, gunfire could be heard in the background.

Urgent need

Israeli troops prevented UNRWA and Red Cross workers entering Jenin camp on Tuesday, saying only that there was "a situation" inside as new reports emerged of bitter fighting.

UNRWA's director of operations in the West Bank, Richard Cook, told BBC News Online from the town that he and his staff would try again on Wednesday.

Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank
Israeli troops have met fierce resistance

They have brought medical aid, blood, food and blankets for people who have been living under curfew without water, power or phone links for days, surviving on private stocks of food.

The aid agencies' priority is to bring out casualties from the fighting, taking dead bodies to morgues and ferrying the injured to hospital. But they are just as concerned to get aid to people suffering from ordinary medical conditions, Mr Cook said.

Most residents of the camp, which makes up about a quarter of the town's territory, do not rely on relief agencies in times of peace.

Mr Cook points out, however, that the arrival of aid workers will have the important effect of encouraging people with their own resources to leave their shelters and go to shops in the town.

'No justification'

An Israeli army source said 13 soldiers were killed in a single bomb blast in the camp on Tuesday.

Funeral of Israeli soldier Marom Fisher, killed in Jenin on 6 April
Israeli civilians have been spared bomb attacks in recent days but army losses have mounted

Peter Hansen, the UNRWA's commissioner general, accused the Israeli army of creating a "hellish battleground" in the midst of the refugees.

Israeli army officers quoted by the respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the threat to ground troops from gunmen in the camp had become so great that they were using bulldozers to plough their way through.

The officers said they were worried that the truth about the level of destruction wreaked in Jenin would do Israel's reputation abroad "great damage".

"However many wanted men we kill in the refugee camp... there is still no justification for causing such great destruction," said one of the anonymous officers.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli soldiers die in Jenin ambush
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli troops begin withdrawal
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
05 Apr 02 | Middle East
Fears grow of humanitarian crisis
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