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Amid Israeli attack, tales of abuse

As Israel pulled out of some West Bank towns Thursday, Jenin, a center of Palestinian militancy, remained closed.

By Cameron W. BarrStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 12, 2002


From a rocky olive orchard above this West Bank village, Jenin and its refugee camp seemed placid Thursday. Almost nothing moved. A few Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled along deserted streets. Inside the camp, two burning buildings sent streams of smoke into a hazy sky.

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But here in Burqin and several other nearby villages, refugees from Israel's 10-day-old invasion of Jenin and its camp spoke loudly and incessantly of horrors: a cigarette stubbed out on a man's skin, five young men executed in plain sight, mass burials by bulldozer.

Sitting down to relate her story yesterday, Atra Nijmi looked at a handful of reporters and burst into tears. Her words came in torrents as well. "They destroyed the house, they killed children and they killed boys," she said, the "they" being Israeli soldiers.

"There's no water, nothing to clean clothes with," she continued. "The airplanes bombed, night and day."

Although Israeli troops withdrew yester- day from 24 villages in the West Bank, they remain in major population centers in their campaign to root out the "infrastructure of terror." In meetings in Israel today, Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to press Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw, but Mr. Sharon has made it clear the operations will continue until his government determines they are completed.

The Israelis acknowledge that they have faced bitter resistance in Jenin's refugee camp – hundreds of armed fighters who used rifles, grenades, mines, and in one case, a suicide bomber, to fight Israel's advance. But Israeli spokesmen also vehemently deny Palestinian assertions that a massacre has occurred there.

The Israeli military said that a final group of three-dozen Palestinian fighters surrendered in the camp yesterday morning, apparently solidifying Israel's control over the area.

Israeli officials say their soldiers operate with the utmost concern for civilians they encounter. "Strict orders were issued," says Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey, the Israeli military's chief spokesman. "Hold back the fire the moment you see or feel civilian families."

General Kitrey says Palestinian militants "have chosen deliberately the environment of civilian neighborhoods" to conduct their battles against Israeli soldiers. But civilians who have fled the camp say it is Israel that has moved beyond the pale in prosecuting what its leaders describe as a war on terror.

There is no way to corroborate the accounts now emerging from the Jenin refugee camp, in part because Israel continues to bar foreign journalists from the area, as well as from many other parts of the West Bank. Yesterday scores of reporters and television crews sought entry to Jenin, only to be turned away at Israeli checkpoints ringing the area.

Difficult to observe

Some who made it into the town were detained, and others found it nearly impossible to work in a situation where they feared arrest or worse. Michael Keating, a UN official who entered the town and was denied entry to the refugee camp, said by telephone that Jenin "is pretty smashed up – it's much worse than Ramallah."