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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Plea for access to devastated Jenin
The true death toll may not be known for some time
Aid agencies are pressing Israel to allow them to distribute emergency supplies in the refugee camp at Jenin - the scene of the heaviest fighting in the Israeli military offensive on the West Bank.

We're going to need heavy lifting equipment to wrest the bodies from the rubble

UN relief agency
The Palestinian Authority is calling for an immediate investigation into what happened at Jenin; it claims Israeli troops killed hundreds of people there. The Israelis say dozens not hundreds of Palestinians died, many of them militant fighters.

And the level of destruction is becoming more evident. Our correspondent, Jeremy Cooke, who was among a small group of journalists escorted into the camp by Israeli soldiers, described a scene of utter devastation.

Rene Aquarone, spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) which looks after Palestinians in refugee camps, said: "We need access.

"We tried to distribute food yesterday (Monday) but the authorisation to enter came so late that the truck could only get into the camp at six o'clock in the evening - and then we were not given permission to unload and had to leave."

A Spokeswomen for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef also said that the agencies were unable to deliver food and medical aid to needy people who had been under curfew in Jenin for more than a week.

The WHO is worried about the risk of diseases such as cholera and diphtheria breaking out in the camps due to lack of running water and medical supplies.

'War crime'

Our correspondent said any buildings still standing were marked with gunfire.

On the streets tanks and armoured personnel carriers and Israeli foot patrols were still operating.

Most of the camp's 13,000 inhabitants fled the incursion, but some are now returning to shattered or deserted homes.

Jenin boy
Agencies fear diseases such as cholera breaking out
"My house is destroyed. I'm now staying at my brother's," said Mohammed Ballaf, freed after being rounded up with hundreds of people by Israeli forces.

He said he had yet to see his wife and four children, who fled the ferocious fighting for the nearby city of Jenin.

"My house can be repaired, but it will cost a lot of money. Everything is burnt inside," he told Reuters.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said on Tuesday that Israel's alleged "massacre" of hundreds of Palestinians at Jenin refugee camp included between 60 and 70 summary executions.

He told a Cyprus-hosted UN conference on Middle East peace: "The massacre in Jenin is really horrible. It is a war crime."

But the row over the number of dead could carry on for some time because of the level of devastation.

Bodies gathered

Our correspondent said it could take days, perhaps even weeks to sort through the wreckage.

The Israeli Supreme Court has insisted the Red Cross be allowed to monitor the gathering of the corpses - against the wishes of the Israeli army.

But ambulances from UNRWA and the Red Cross were only able briefly to collect eight bodies from the camp late on Monday.

Mr Aquarone said they would need more help to get to other bodies.

"We're going to need heavy lifting equipment to wrest them from the rubble - and to look for survivors."

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke reports from Jenin
"Only the women are on the streets"
Major General Farkash, Israeli Military Intelligence
"It was a real fight between terrorists and our army"
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
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church stalemate grinds on
30 Jul 01 | profiles
Fatah: Cornerstone of Arafat's power
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