- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

JENIN, West Bank Palestinians poured into the streets of this sprawling refugee camp yesterday, walking amid decaying bodies and bulldozed houses left behind by departing Israeli troops.

In the dusty courtyard of Jenin Hospital, two dozen bodies had been prepared for burial, casualties of a week of clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli military forces.

The white-shrouded figures, many discolored with the dark yellow stains of human decay, were displayed for the wailing widows and crowds of reporters before being trucked to a mass funeral a few blocks away.

Israel withdrew from the West Bank town late Thursday evening, honoring a promise to the Bush administration to scale down its three-week military offensive. A Palestinian bomber blew himself up at an Israeli military checkpoint, and seven Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli fire in other incidents yesterday.

Throughout the camp at Jenin, houses stood with outer walls blasted or bulldozed to reveal the uncomfortably intimate rooms within.

The Palestinians claim the Israelis conducted a "massacre." The Israelis say Jenin was crowded with armed resistance forces and booby traps that killed an unprecedented 23 Israeli soldiers and justified the massive destruction of property.

Some of the dead Palestinians may have been killed by exploding booby traps set by their own forces. Israel officials said more than two dozen terrorist attacks have been launched from this camp.

Khairya Qarny, a formidable mother of nine, was asleep last week when Israeli soldiers knocked down her door and searched her home, destroying much of it.

Shards of her dishes still carpet the ground floor, and personal items from furniture to appliances to photographs had been tossed around. Bullets strafed the walls and her closets, where most of her dresses are ruined.

The front of the house has been sheered off by an armored bulldozer, and the house will be knocked down. "My home," she said, in anger more than sadness.

Most of the adjacent town of Jenin and much of the 50-year-old refugee camp sustained light damage during the weeklong occupation. But in the center of the refugee camp, an area that once teemed with warrens of tiny houses, there is now only landslides of destruction.

Piles of crumbled gray concrete tower over Palestinian teen-agers foraging for valuables and keepsakes. Clothing, jewelry, identity papers are all somewhere beneath the rubble.

U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, after touring the area yesterday, declared that Israel's methods are "absolutely totally unacceptable and unheard of." Mr. Roed-Larsen told reporters he was "horrified beyond belief" by what he saw.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, rejected allegations that Israeli troops had committed a massacre, saying the army tooks pains to minimize casualties.

Yesterday, the stench of death was staggering at times, with decay wafting up from the rubble fields, choking aid workers and dazed, wandering camp residents.

So far, 43 bodies have been found and more are likely to be found. No final casualty totals have been announced.

"The exact figures I cannot give you," said Zuhair Manasreh, the governor of Jenin, who turned out yesterday to tour the devastation. "Fourteen-thousand people used to live here. I don't know how many are still alive, or in prison, or living with relatives, or deceased."

Outside the hospital, an angry crowd gathered, wailing for the bodies that have been identified and prepared for burial. Women, many in borrowed clothing, cried loudly with the bodies. Over the tumult, an old woman's voice rose above the others.

"She is singing for Sharon," interpreted a Palestinian man. "That is the wedding song. She is singing to tell him that we are married to our cause, like these bodies."

After a large bulldozer dug long ditches for mass graves, hundreds of people gathered in the freshly turned earth to see off the first of many village dead. Their families yesterday praised the dead as martyrs, fighters and sons of Palestine.

"He was so brave," said a woman of her brother. "They had to kill him. He was repelling the Israelis."

She said she wants her brother to be memorialized in a martyr poster, like the ones pasted up on every wall and shed in the area. She thinks he will serve as an inspiration for other Palestinians. At the edge of the camp, four little boys were running through the crowd, showing off their new toys.

One carried a broken barrel from a Katyusha rocket. Another wore an Israeli-issue military vest, the pockets stuffed with the spoils of war.

There was a LeaderNet cell phone with a Hebrew display, and a fistful of white plastic ties used by Israeli soldiers to handcuff their prisoners. The vest was spotted with blood.

"It smells," the boys squealed as they passed around the phone.

The boys, no older than 14, were reluctant to say how they came to have the vest, and denied that the dark-brown stains were blood. Finally, one boy said he watched an injured soldier shake off the vest because it was too heavy to carry. "I am going to wear this when I fight them," he said.

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