Jenin Survivors Describe
Israeli Operation

By Mike Gallagher
From the International Desk

JENIN, West Bank (UPI) - Palestinian eyewitnesses have given United Press International detailed accounts of the Israeli military's incursion into Jenin, describing firefights in the tight alleyways that make up much of the refugee camp, and a pattern of house demolition and the use of heavy munitions by Israeli soldiers that appears to have killed many civilians, and left survivors at risk from hunger and disease.
Israeli soldiers would demolish any building they took fire from by using tanks and armored bulldozers, inhabitants of the camp told UPI.
If they saw any movement inside the house, they would open up on it with heavy-caliber weapons, pause to see if anyone would come out and then flatten it. On other occasions, they blew the doors off with explosives and charged in firing automatic weapons, residents say.
Sometimes, they pushed civilians in ahead of them.
Residents say these tactics were adopted after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in one day by a combination of suicide bombs, snipers and booby traps. Israel has defended its operation, saying its purpose was to root out terrorists in the camp.
"I was standing by my window, watching this tank coming down the street, when suddenly one of the soldiers saw me and fired in my direction," Maryam Ayasi -- apparently still in a state of shock -- told UPI.
She was horribly scratched and bruised and was limping painfully on two swollen ankles. Her clothes were full of small bloodstains and covered in dust and grime from her miraculous escape.
"The next thing I knew," she went on, "a machine gun was cutting holes in the walls and I tried to run downstairs to get away. I was halfway down when the building was rocked by a huge explosion and I was thrown off my feet and I fell down the stairs.
"The machine guns didn't stop. I wanted to go out and tell them there was no one inside, but I was afraid that they would kill me so I managed to get out the back door. The shell had blown some of my furniture from the room where I was standing, through two walls and out onto the backyard. Lumps of concrete were still falling down when I staggered outside."
She continued: "I had decided to stay and take care of our home. My husband left when he heard that the Israelis were coming. He said that he didn't believe that he would get any mercy from them and although he is only a carpenter and was never interested in the intifada (Palestinian uprising), he thought he would be rounded up and tortured until he named everyone he knew.
"He used to do a lot of work on construction sites in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but when the blockade started he couldn't get a travel permit so instead he did bits of work fixing the homes of those who lived in the refugee camp. I don't think he knew any of the suicide bombers or any of their colleagues, but I don't think the army cares. I don't know where he has gone, if he has been arrested or what. He refused to tell me where he was going in case the Israelis tortured me."
"Thank God, we have no children," she concluded. "Worrying about them is more than I could bear. I have enough on my hands with my nephews and nieces."
Israeli officials have defended their operation, saying Jenin was a nest of suicide bombers and other Palestinian extremists, and that the army did its best to limit civilian casualties.
"It is difficult to find an army in the entire world that would fight a war in such a moral way," one Israeli Cabinet official told reporters Sunday.
The Israeli military says it only targeted buildings from which Palestinian militants had been firing at them and that ground troops had aided in pinpointing those targets. The Israelis insist that they did not use fighter jets such as F-16s, nor artillery that would cause extensive damage and hit innocent people as well. This policy cost Israeli lives, they added.
Ayasi took UPI to where she used to live. The small apartment block had been cut in half by the shelling. The entire front section had collapsed in on itself. She pointed out where she had lived. The outer wall was gone, and her description of the blast was accurate. The inner wall was scorched, and a large hole led out onto the backyard.
As we approached the building, an elderly resident came up to us and warned us not to enter the area.
Hussam Abu Attalah said he was a 69-year-old refugee of the Israeli war of independence that brought him here in 1948.
"A young boy was hurt by an explosion there yesterday," he said. "I think the army has left booby traps in the rubble. We thought that someone might be alive inside, but we are afraid to go near it.
"I think," he said -- pausing as tears welled up in his eyes -- "that you can tell by the smell there may be no one inside worth saving."
As we walked back toward the center of town, a small boy with a good grasp of English came up to me and asked where I'd been. When I told him, he shook his head like a war veteran.
"We tried to make them go down there," the boy said. "We had a lot of very good snipers, and we were going to make them come out of the tanks and shoot them one by one."
When I asked him how they planned to do that, he looked at me like someone who had to have everything explained to him in children's terms and his tone of voice was like that of an old man telling stories to a little boy. He said he was just over 8 years old.
"The streets are too narrow. They cannot drive the tanks through them quickly. They get stuck and one or two always come out and wave at it until it is free," he said, imitating the hand signals he saw them using. "Then we shoot them."
He jumped and clapped his hands delightedly.
When I asked him what his name was, his eyes narrowed and his voice lowered cautiously. He was suspicious about the possibility that Israeli soldiers were walking around camouflaged as journalists.
"To you I am ... Issa,' he said at last.
By way of praising his courage, this reporter told him: "No. To me you are David, and I admire your bravery against the tanks and soldiers that are like Goliath."
But he replied: "David is a Jewish name. I am a Palestinian. To you I am Issa."
Ayasi wept quietly as she walked away from "Issa" and back toward the center of the ruined city.
"You cannot defeat a spirit like that," she said. "He embodies the spirit of the Palestinians."
Residents were doing whatever they could to dig their way through the smashed buildings. Most had little more than steel bars, shovels and bloody bare hands, scratched and bruised from moving the heavy, sharp lumps of masonry.
UPI saw several groups at work, with at least one person kneeling, carefully listening for any sounds down below. Everyone watched him closely. If he suddenly raised his hands in the air, the digging came to an abrupt stop and yells for silence would go around.
The listener strained to hear the slightest sound, pushing one ear close to the hole with a hand held over the other and eyes closed in concentration. Then he would shake his head in disappointment, and the work would continue.
"I think we're wasting our time," said Adnan Dasouki a 32-year-old market trader.
"We should be using our noses to find our families, not our ears. It's gone way past the point where any sane person would think there was still hope for those who are buried alive. But what use is there for sanity out here?
"Sanity was buried alive with human rights and hope when the tanks came here."
Dasouki told UPI he was briefly arrested and then released by Israeli soldiers. He showed me his wrists where the handcuffs had cut into them.
"They seemed to know who they were looking for, and thankfully, it wasn't me. But I don't know why I wasn't taken away. I saw some other men who I know had no connections with Hamas or any other groups. I almost felt guilty about being the only one who was freed."
When asked about the risk of unexploded ordnance lying around, he said that was the least of his worries.
"If we find some of their bombs and bullets, then maybe we can give it back to them in the same way they gave them to us. By force."
A Palestinian nurse -- who asked that UPI not publish his name -- described how the Israeli bulldozers tore up roads, sewers and water pipes, cut off electricity supplies and pulled down telephone lines.
"If we're not careful, then we could end up as victims of the second part of the Israeli assault --disease," he said. "It could end up killing more than the soldiers and the tanks did. It's a kind of biological warfare."
With reporting by Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv, Israel Copyright © 2002 United Press International

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