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Correspondent Friday, 22 February, 2002, 18:00 GMT
The ugly war: Children of vengeance
Suicide volunteers
Palestinian suicide volunteers ready for their mission
Gaining rare access to the Palestinian militias, Correspondent focuses on the nexus of "terrorist" street fighters in three West Bank towns. Hidden in the concrete warren of the Jenin refugee camp is a bomb-making factory where the suicide belts and the explosives are made. Reporter John Kampfner and Producer Stuart Tanner report.

Click here for transcripts

We are huddled in the back of a beaten up old car, travelling at speed. If you are on the Israeli's wanted list, to be in a car is to dice with death. At any moment you could be picked off by a guided missile from Apache helicopters.

In the distance we hear the low roar of F16s. But we are told not to worry - they are used only to hit buildings.

The weapons factory

We are with the Al-Aqsa brigade, the military wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation. They are taking us to the most secret location of all, in the heart of Jenin.

Weapons making factory
The bomb and explosive materials in the weapons making factory

For the last part of the journey we are hooded. When the hood comes off we find ourselves in a basement with two large rooms.

This is a weapons making factory. The man we are about to meet is the most important link in the chain. If the Israelis knew where he was they would try to kill him straight away.

He is masked. He introduces himself as "the engineer". This is no ordinary engineer, but an engineer of weapons of death.

"The engineer"

These people have a legendary status in Palestinian society. He gives us a lecture from his own manual of engineer's trade secrets.

"The engineer" shows the suicide belt young men use in their missions

He picks up a string of firecrackers on the floor and wraps it around his waist. "This is the suicide belt that the young men use in their suicide missions," he explains. "It is filled with explosives and the effect is quite good." It is good enough to rip apart the body of the wearer and anyone close by.

As he holds the belt, we can see that his hands are badly burnt. In fact his body is burnt from head to toe. The Israelis had already tried to kill him once in a rocket attack.

The launch pad

Jenin, just a few miles from the Israeli town of Afula, has become one of the most important bases from which suicide attacks are launched.

Street fighters
Street fighters in Jenin operate at night time

The fighters move from one hideout to the next. They operate at night. They get up late. They use the day to monitor the news on satellite TV. They have no work. There are few jobs to go to. The second intifada has destroyed the economy.

We want to meet the man who sends them: Ali Safuri, a leader of Islamic Jihad. He has been arrested by the Palestinian Authority. But we can still get to him through a personal friend of his, called Jamal Hwaid.

The Israelis call Jenin the cockroaches nest, but we call it the nest of angels

Jamal Hwaid
"The Israelis call Jenin the cockroaches nest, but we call it the nest of angels," Hwaid tells us. The various factions have an extraordinary league table of suicide missions and casualties. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa are, he says, at the top.

"The honourable competition from all organisations resulted in the increase of the martyrs from each organisation. If I can compare with football teams in Britain like Manchester United, Liverpool and Leeds, when one team gets stronger, this drives the other to become stronger also, and the players must increase their effort and improve their skills."

Combining forces

Jamal Hwaid takes us to meet Ali Safuri in a prison in a secret location run by the Palestinian Authority. The guards of this prison have a dual function. They are as anxious to protect their prisoner from Israeli assassination, as they are to restrict his activities. After being body searched, we are taken through an inner door.

Ali Safuri
Ali Safuri, a leader of Islamic Jihad

Ali Safuri - big bear of a man - gives Jamal a bear hug. There is nothing strange in that, perhaps, except that Jamal is a member of the Al-Aqsa brigades. To improve their effectiveness, the groups now work more closely together. They have formed "cocktail cells", joint ventures for specific suicide missions.

Outgunned, surrounded and watched, they cannot even begin to compete in conventional conflict with Israel's hi-tech military machine.

Jamal Hwaid
Jamal Hwaid - member of Al-Aqsa brigades

Their political leaders are perhaps as far away as they have been in modern times in achieving an element of autonomy or dignity for their people. But what they do have is the ability to strike fear, to make Israelis experience the fear of not knowing where the next bullet will come from.

Suicide attacks are, by their nature, random. They are inevitably followed by reprisals. The cycle of violence intensifies. And yet, on one level, they are highly effective.

Balance of terror

"They achieve for us the balance of terror," Ali Safuri tells us. "Let's be honest: when my countryman sees that Apache in the sky he becomes scared. But also for them when an operation takes place in Afula, the man in Tel Aviv becomes too scared to even sleep at his home. Such is the balance of terror."

The graves of two young gun men in the "martyrs cemetery"

Our final stop in Jenin is the "martyrs cemetery" on the outskirts of town. There are two dozen graves of young men who have either blown themselves up or been shot after spraying gunfire on an Israeli town. Each grave bears a memorial plaque, a picture in heroic pose, Kalashnikov by his side. At the corner of the makeshift garden is a new plot, a hole in the ground, a new grave awaiting a new martyr.

The balance of terror, the ultimate logic of the Palestinian war with Israel. The Palestinians live in the shadow of death all the time. The one tactic that remains open to them is the power to determine their own death and those they take with them.

The ugly war: Children of vengeance. Sunday 24 February 2002 at 19:00 on BBC Two

Producer/Director: Stuart Tanner
Executive Producer: Tom Roberts
Editor: Fiona Murch

John Kampfner
Children of vengeance
John Kampfner
Origin of weapons
Suicide bomber
Ready for his mission

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