- Israel was trying to bury the evidence in Jenin refugee
camp yesterday, but it cannot bury the terrible crime it has committed:
a slaughter in which Palestinian civilians were cut down alongside the
armed defenders of the camp.
- Israeli tanks circled journalists menacingly as foreign
reporters tried to get into the camp, cutting off their approach. But a
man who had just fled the camp said he had seen Israeli soldiers burying
the bodies of the dead in a mass grave.
- "I saw it all with my own eyes," said the man.
"I saw people bleeding to death in the streets. I saw a 10-year-old
child lying dead. There was a big hole in his side and his arm had been
- "I saw them burying the bodies. They started work
on the grave a few days ago. I recognised some of the bodies in it. I can
give you the names."
- And he reeled them off: "Mohammed Hamed, Nidal Nubam
and Mustafa Shnewa". He said the mass grave he saw was in a neighbourhood
called Harat Al-Hawashiya. "They dug a big hole in the ground. I saw
them filling it in today. They had a big bulldozer pushing dirt in on top
- And so the grieving of Jenin will not be certain where
their relatives lie. They will not return to bury their dead, however -
the Israeli army will have done that to keep the devastating sight of the
carnage away from the eyes of the waiting world.
- Yesterday, though, they were unable to stifle the evil
smell. The reek of putrefying bodies wafted out of the narrow, rubble-strewn
alleys which were barred for a fifth day to international aid agencies
trying to send ambulances and doctors to evacuate the many wounded, and
recover the dead.
- One after another, international officials, angered by
Israel's rampant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the human
misery that has resulted, confided to The Independent yesterday that they
had reached the inevitable conclusion: a crime has been committed which
Israel is trying to cover up.
- "It is clear they have something to hide - that
is the bottom line," said one senior diplomatic source. Red Cross
and Red Crescent ambulances waited on stand-by for yet another day, without
getting in to the camp.
- The agencies have been tirelessly collecting information
in the face of Israel's news black-out, building up details of the scene
inside the half-wrecked, water-starved camp - a sprawl of tightly packed
homes over one square kilometre. In effect, it has been turned into a prison
where thousands of refugees are still in hiding, terrified that the soldiers
will add them to the three-figure death toll.
- A grim, if incomplete, picture is forming. Electricity
supplies in Jenin Hospital are so low that the morgue's refrigerators are
not running. Decomposing bodies, retrieved from other parts of the West
Bank town, have been buried in the hospital gardens.
- But yesterday morning corpses lay unburied in the camp
itself, where 15,000 refugees, half of them under 18, lived before the
assault, and the ensuing battles, began.
- "People who got to the edge of the camp found it
incredibly smelly," one UN official said. How much of the camp still
stands is unclear; reports say that bulldozers have cut a swath through
homes near the entrance - a tactic which the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel
Sharon, used against the refugees of Gaza 30 years ago, when he was an
army commander trying to subdue the same forces that have now reared up
against him anew.
- Some accounts say that a third of the camp has been flattened.
- The besieged Palestinians of Jenin fall into three categories.
There is an unknown number in hiding in the refugee camp itself. These
are without water, medicines, and risk being shot by Israeli snipers if
they step outside, violating the curfew.
- There are also an estimated 2,000-3,000 who have fled
the camp, and are living in schools and mosques in poor conditions, with
- Finally, there are the many thousands of residents of
the rest of the town, parts of which have been devastated by tanks, bulldozers
and rockets from helicopters.
- All of them have been under the army curfew, placing
the sick and elderly in serious jeopardy.
- Tracing all the dead is likely to be a long and complex
task. UNWRA, the United Nations relief agency for refugees, keeps a computer
list of the residents of the densely populated camp. When its officials
are finally allowed access to the camp, this will be used to identify the
number of missing - either in detention, hiding or dead.
- Israel may be able to hide the bodies of the dead but
it cannot hide all the evidence. Hundreds of refugees have poured out of
Jenin camp, many with harrowing stories to tell. The Palestinians are not
going to let these stories be buried under the rubble.
- Volunteers are compiling meticulous records of the testimony
of every refugee who staggered beaten and humiliated by Israeli soldiers
out of detention. The Independent has seen the laborious hand-written notes,
of which several copies have been made.
- Among them lies the story of Jamal Wardun. He was detained
in the refugee camp when he tried to take his wife to hospital. She was
pregnant and going into labour. The last time he saw her was when he was
forced to leave her behind in the street.