Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 17:02 UK

Shatila martyrs' cemetery

Martyrs cemetery in Chatila (Photo by Martin Asser)

Just north of Shatila's main crossroads stands a building considered to be the most important one in the camp - the martyrs' cemetery.

It started life as a congregational mosque, but during the War of the Camps, when Shatila was under siege for more than six months (November 1986-June 1987), the space was used as a mass grave for the dozens of victims of the shells, snipers and disease.

Martyrs cemetery in Chatila (Photo by Phil Coomes)

The precise number of bodies lying under the whitewashed concrete slabs is not known. Many of them were buried without much ceremony in extremely dangerous circumstances, during the bombardment of Sabra and Shatila camps by Syrian forces and their allies in the Shia Muslim Amal militia.

Eyewitnesses to the burials say the corpses were interred in rows in three pits. When each pit filled up, they put down metal sheets and started a new level. The piles of corpses were three-deep by the time the siege was lifted.

Today the cemetery is the centre-point of commemorations for Nakba (or "catastrophe") day - 15 May, the day the state of Israel was created in 1948 - and other memorials in the Palestinian calendar.

Relatives customarily come every Thursday to say a prayer at the site of their loved one's grave - of the nearest approximation according to the recollection of those who did the burying.

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