Jenin Residents Recovering Dead
JENIN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank – Hana Abu Jandal pushed past people until she reached a mound of bright orange dirt in the hospital's back yard. Her face creased as she began to scream. "Where is he? How could you bury him? I want to see him! I want to see him!"
Her fury quickly transformed into hysteria as she fell to her knees crying, her dark blue headscarf touching the sand covering the temporary burial plot for her husband and others killed during the Israeli takeover of the Jenin refugee camp.
In a weeklong battle that ended April 11, Israeli soldiers fought Palestinians armed with rifles and bombs. The Israeli army says that 23 soldiers were killed and that most of the Palestinian casualties — they estimate in the dozens — were gunmen who were holed up in hide-outs in the camp known as a hotbed of militant activity. Palestinians spoke of a massacre of civilians, a charge the army denied.
The U.N. envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, said after a tour of the camp on Thursday that conditions were "horrifying beyond belief."
"Just seeing this area, it looks like there's been an earthquake here, and the stench of death is over many places where we are standing," Roed-Larsen said.
He said he had seen the corpse of a 12-year-old boy, adding: "Evidently, there are lots of other corpses" still unrecovered.
Wednesday was the first day residents of the camp were able to come to the nearby hospital to look for relatives, after Israeli military vehicles that had surrounded the building withdrew.
During the Israeli occupation of the camp, the hospital grounds had been turned into a temporary graveyard, with medics placing 23 bodies, already decayed, into makeshift graves. Palestinians buried another five in the camp's hilltops.
Israel said it entered the shantytown of 14,000 to capture militants held responsible for shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis. Military officials said gunmen booby-trapped buildings and streets in the camps in what turned out to be the deadliest battle of the 3-week-old offensive.
Israel said it would begin pulling troops out of Jenin and the refugee camp within days. By Wednesday evening, the army had reduced its presence in the camp, although several patrols were seen in alleyways.
Bodies were still turning up. On Wednesday, medical workers removed the charred body of an old woman from the top floor of a building overlooking the center of the camp. At one point the corpse slipped onto the road from the blanket workers had wrapped around it. Children watching nearby began to scream.
Residents with shovels picked through the center of the camp, which looked like an earthquake zone. Palestinian workers brought in two bulldozers to begin sifting through the wreckage.
People crowded around as one bulldozer edged into the side of a hill, tearing at large slabs of rock and aluminum roofing. Whispers began that as many as a dozen people had sought refuge inside a cave and that Israeli bulldozers had toppled a house over the entrance while clearing the area, trapping everyone inside. It was not immediately clear if anyone was buried in the rubble.
While the bulldozer bit at the dirt, a woman ran screaming to block its path. "You're putting more earth on top of my brother!" she screamed, pointing to where the bulldozer had piled the debris it had taken from the hill.
Israel says soldiers had called over megaphones for residents to leave their houses before troops began demolishing buildings that were believed to be hide-outs of militants.
Chopped-up human remains lay along the side of one alleyway. Flies and worms crawled over the mangled flesh before Palestinian Red Crescent workers placed the pieces into a white plastic bag and loaded them onto a trailer. Elsewhere in the camp, a youth carried a pair of black jeans tied in a bundle. For journalists, he unwrapped it to reveal a child's foot, burnt black.
At the hospital, Palestinians walked through to the back parking lot to see where their relatives were buried. Some held their hands in prayer before the stone tiles marking the perimeter of the burial plots. Others stumbled away in tears, supported by friends.
"He's with God now. It's all right, don't cry," said one woman, shaking Hana Abu Jandal by the shoulders. Abu Jandal kept her head on the ground, crying. "I want to see him," she wept.