April 13, 2002, 05:15|
Where there was the rattle of machine-gun fire, there is now the rumble of tanks on the move. The sound of shells exploding has been replaced by the silence of the people in their homes. After nine days of the bloodiest battle of its West Bank campaign, Israel's army is in complete control of the Jenin refugee camp.
The entrance to the impoverished camp - home to some 15 000 refugees from Israel's turbulent creation in 1948, and notorious inside the Jewish state as a haven for militant groups whose
members have carried out suicide bombings - resembles a dusty wasteland. Houses are crumbling from the heavy impacts of tank shells and burned-out cars litter the road.
However, the real destruction was in the heart of the Jenin camp, where the soldiers faced stiff and determined resistance. The Palestinians claim it was a "massacre" when the army used extreme
force to finally gain control of the area on Thursday. From the roof of Abdallah Saleh's home located on the edge of the camp, one can see, near the main mosque, mounds of concrete and
charred debris scattered on the street.
There are also more ravaged houses - many with holes blown in their inside walls so the soldiers could search house by house without exposing themselves to sniper fire. Saleh is happy to be getting some fresh air after a week of staying inside, but his expression is grim as he inspects the clothes and drapes he had hung out to dry on the roof as the tanks were moving in. They are now filled with bullet holes. "It was firing from all directions. Here, there, over there. The tanks, the helicopters," said the forty-something Saleh, while his children picked up spent shells and pieces of missiles.
Some 250 Palestinians killed in Jenin
Both the Palestinians and Israelis agree that many people were killed in Jenin. The Israeli army says it lost nearly two dozen of its own and military sources have estimated some 250 Palestinians were killed. The Palestinians say hundreds more were killed and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinians' information minister, yesterday accused Israel of digging mass graves for 900 Palestinians in the camp.
Israel has denied the allegations of indiscriminate killings and mass graves, but the Palestinian claims have been impossible to verify. Journalists were only allowed to enter the camp yesterday, but were not given access to areas where the fighting was most deadly. Doctors at the main hospital in Jenin city complain they have not been able to enter the camp for six days.
"Under the rubble," Inas Mansour, a young Palestinian teacher, said when asked where he thought all the bodies were. He said he witnessed five men, including two gunmen, crushed by a building which was collapsed by missiles fired by attack helicopters. However, he said it was not only the soldiers who were knocking down walls. "Palestinian fighters also used this method to move around and evacuate civilians," he said.
"It was war, on every corner," said Omri, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier who along with 60 others was getting ready to leave the camp. He confided that the cleaning up had been turned over to
reserve troops. "I saw two of my comrades fall, I know there were lots of Palestinian fighters killed. It was extremely violent, but we never fired on unarmed people," he said.
"I saw terrible scenes, terrible. There was gunfire everywhere, people were yelling and calling for help. There were soldiers everywhere," added Taman, a mother of four children who was trying to fix up her home - which was spared - after spending several days in Jenin city to escape the fighting. "I don't think I'll stay here," she said. "I'm too scared." -Sapa-AFP