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ISRAELIS TRY TO PIN BLAME FOR JENIN ON SUICIDE BOMBERS

ISRAELI OFFICIALS were desperately scrambling to explain the war
crimes committed at Jenin refugee camp as the international furore
over the devastation rose to new heights yesterday.
ISRAELIS TRY TO PIN BLAME FOR JENIN ON SUICIDE BOMBERS

By Phil Reeves In Jerusalem

The Independent
April 19, 2002

ISRAELI OFFICIALS were desperately scrambling to explain the war
crimes committed at Jenin refugee camp as the international furore
over the devastation rose to new heights yesterday.

A senior Israeli government official admitted to The Independent
that civilians had died in Jenin, but said they were killed by
Palestinians.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
claimed Palestinian militants rigged the buildings with explosives,
and blew them up while holding civilians as hostage. The Israelis
decided to send in bulldozers to fully demolish the homes because
they contained booby-traps, he said. And the Defence Minister,
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, said 45 of the 48 bodies recovered from Jenin
were wearing the uniforms of Islamic Jihad - a claim that
contradicts those who have seen the bodies.

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen,
visited the most heavily damaged area and described the scene as
"horrific beyond belief". He told Israel Army Radio: "Jenin will
forever be a blot on the history of the state of Israel."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that the
scale of the devastation was so great that Israel should allow
international rescue and recovery teams into Jenin.

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw added his voice to the
calls for an outside investigation into Israel's "excessive actions"
in Jenin, which its forces invaded on 3 April in a
"counter-terrorism" operation. Mr Straw said: "Such is the scale of
the evidence that there is a strong case for Israel to answer."

Humanitarian groups fear that the exact death toll will never be
known. Saeb Erekat, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, said he
had received 1,600 calls from families who had been unable to find
relatives from the camp.

Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of Unrwa, the UN relief agency
for Palestinian refugees, said: "It was worse than I feared. I saw a
family digging for their father who they had found in decomposed
bits, and the remnants of a child under the rubble. It was a
gruesome sight. We saw hundreds and hundreds of people walking
around in a daze, looking for what used to be their dear ones."

He said he did not believe the camp had been heavily booby-trapped -
a claim used by the Israeli army to justify banning access to Red
Cross and UN ambulances.
 
 

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