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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
The battle for Jenin
Palestinian boys wearing empty ammunition belts in Jenin refugee camp
Mr Sharon says Jenin is "a hornets' nest" of terrorism
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By Tarik Kafala
BBC News Online, Jerusalem

Accounts are emerging of what went on in the Jenin refugee camp during what is believed to have been the heaviest fighting of Israel's campaign in the West Bank.

Palestinians examine the wreckage of their homes in Jenin
Palestinian witnesses claim Israeli soldiers burned down many houses in the camp

The death toll among Palestinian civilians, fighters and Israeli soldiers has been high.

Palestinians have called on the United Nations to investigate what they claim is an Israeli massacre of Palestinians.

The camp is home to 13,000 people and, according to Israeli officials, is one of the main sources of terrorism - in Ariel Sharon's words, "a hornets' nest".

Humanitarian crisis

Palestinians say there were extra-judicial executions in the camp - an accusation strongly denied by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

I never imagined they (Israeli soldiers) would use such brutal tactics against us

Wijdan Abu Sunayah
There is no independent verification of these accounts - no medical or aid workers, international agencies or journalists have been able to penetrate any distance into the camp.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, estimates that the fighting has driven 2,000 to 3,000 people from their homes, and describes the humanitarian crisis in the camp and the city as extremely serious.

Wijdan Abu Sunayah and her two children left her home in the refugee camp on Wednesday.

She is now sheltering with family in the city.

She described to BBC News Online the attack on the camp.

"There was a lot of shelling and helicopters. Then the soldiers came into the camp, but met resistance so they moved from house to house," she said.

"They weren't able to go in the street so they had to hide in houses.

"They would fire on a house, people would try to escape, some were shot some got away," she added.


Early on in the attack, Wijdan says, IDF soldiers burnt houses as they went, and the fires spread, forcing more people out.

A Palestinian boy salvages belongings from his home in Jenin
Many homes have been completely destroyed

"It was desperate, we had run out of water on Monday. I saw with my own eyes our neighbour get shot as he tried to get water from just outside the back door. I don't know if he survived," she said.

"There were no calls for the women and children to come out. When the men surrendered they were taken away, or just tied up in the street and made to lie down on the ground all night then taken away."

"All the men, apart from little boys and very old men, were taken away."

She said that Israeli soldiers then took over her family's top floor.

"They allowed us out on Wednesday. When I left I was insulted and soldiers made indecent signs."

"I never imagined they would use such brutal tactics against us," she said.

According to Palestinian sources, the IDF buried the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed in fighting in a mass grave and used bulldozers to cover them up - again a charge vehemently denied by the Israeli army.

The IDF's official number for Palestinians killed in operations in Jenin is about 100, with hundreds injured.

'Propaganda purposes'

According to the Haaretz newspaper, military sources said two IDF infantry companies were scheduled to enter the camp on Friday to collect the dead.

Palestinian man (foreground) surrenders as Israeli soldier looks on
Israeli soldiers have rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men

One Israeli source quoted by Haaretz said that the decision to bury the bodies was taken to stop the Palestinians from using images of the bodies as propaganda.

Other sources said burials had been carried out for reasons of sanitation.

The IDF said that it had called on groups such as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to clear the dead and take away the injured.

Israeli officials hinted that Palestinian medical workers did not want to remove the bodies because they believed scenes of the dead in the streets would help their cause.

This was denied by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which backs, trains and works very closely with the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Movement restricted

An ICRC official in Jerusalem said that its personnel have been just outside the Jenin refugee camp for three days.

Early in the attack, I saw soldiers throw grenades into houses and move on. I don't know if they were empty

Palestinian municipal official Riad Tamish
On several occasions they have been given permission by the IDF to go into the camp, but when they tried to do so their way was blocked or they were stopped by heavy fighting.

Even in Jenin city, which has not been the scene of heavy fighting, ICRC ambulances - clearly marked - have come under fire from Israelis and had their movements restricted, officials say.

Riad Tamish, a municipal official in Jenin and a businessman, spoke to BBC News Online from his home on Friday morning.

He lives across the road from the refugee camp, less than 100 metres away.

"I can see right into the camp. Just now I saw 13 youths being led away, tied up and blindfolded, a tank behind them and two soldiers leading the way. There is fighting still going on," he said.

"Early in the attack, I saw soldiers throw grenades into houses and move on. I don't know if they were empty."

'We want our country'

Riad says there is not a house in the camp that has been left untouched, and many are completely destroyed.

Empty houses, he says, are being bulldozed.

"With my own eyes I have seen Israeli trucks taking away the dead and injured."

Riad and his family of 10 have no electricity, water, or food.

They are under the continuous curfew and surviving on bread, olives and olive oil.

"Why are we being punished like this?" he asked.

"We are not terrorists. We just want to live. We want our country, but we just want to live."

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel steps up Palestinian arrests
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jerusalem's deserted streets
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat 'not a partner for peace'
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Haifa bus bomb
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
Suicide bomb fears haunt Israelis
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israelis back Sharon
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
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