- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinians returning to homes and offices in the West Bank after Israel's pullout yesterday accused Israeli soldiers of looting and vandalism.
They said computers and television cameras had been taken and that money was stolen from safes. Reporters saw graffiti scrawled in English and Hebrew, much like the graffiti scrawled by soldiers in other military campaigns.
Israeli officials had no official response to the charges, which have mounted with the lifting of curfews in the past few days. An Israeli Defense Forces spokesman said: "We didn't come to steal, we didn't come to kill. We came to defend ourselves."
After their pullout from most of the West Bank, Israeli troops continued their siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen seized two weeks ago and barricaded themselves inside, and at Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. An American envoy visited the Palestinian leader there yesterday.
An adviser to Mr. Arafat told Reuters news agency that 90 minutes of talks with Assistant Secretary of State William Burns had not been productive. Mr. Arafat is said to have demanded a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank before he would discuss a cease-fire.
Ramallah is the site of Al Quds University, where staff of the Center for New Media returned to their offices and television studio on Sunday for the first time since learning the building had been used by Israeli forces as barracks and for sniper positions.
During a tour of the premises yesterday, the staff showed a reporter three empty tripods that they said had held television cameras, an empty classroom where they said 12 computers had stood, a ransacked library and offices, and graffiti saying, "No Palestine. Ever."
Wassim Abdullah, the technical director for educational television at the university, described the damage as evidence of "pure hatred."
"This was not a soldier stuffing his pockets," said Mr. Abdullah, who produces the Palestinian version of "Sesame Street." "This was organized, it was allowed."
Similar stories were told in Palestinian neighborhoods throughout the West Bank as Palestinians took stock of their circumstances after weeks of occupation and curfew. Salah Soubani, director of information for the Palestinian Education Ministry, told the Associated Press yesterday that Israeli troops had blown up a safe in the ministry offices and removed $8,000.
"Our ministries were nearly completely destroyed," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. "This was not done as a mistake in one or two places. This was done in every single ministry."
IDF spokesman Capt. Ron Edelheitz said the military would have no official response to the charges for the time being. "We hope the media will keep the same line that someone is not guilty until proven guilty," he said.
Asked specifically about the trashing of the Al Quds media center, another IDF spokesman said angrily that the Israelis "are being blamed for many things" and noted it was impossible to show a "missing camera."
"Maybe the Palestinians themselves stole it."
The charges of vandalism and theft add another dimension to the bruising complaints of human rights violations in the Jenin refugee camp, where many of the suicide bombers were recruited for missions to kill Israeli civilians.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday announced that former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari would lead a U.N. fact-finding mission to Jenin. The group including former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata of Japan and Cornelio Sommaruga, the Swiss former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross is to arrive in the camp over the weekend. "I hope I have put together a team that everyone would accept as competent and as the best we could put together," Mr. Annan said yesterday in New York.
In London, Amnesty International said it had compiled evidence that "indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes," according to Javier Zuniga, director of regional strategy for the London-based group.
Israel has rejected criticism of its operations in Jenin and elsewhere, saying that in fighting its war on Palestinian terrorism, including combat with Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin camp, it has tried to avoid civilian casualties. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the battle of the Jenin camp, which was extensively booby-trapped by the Palestinians.
The Israeli government has agreed to cooperate with the inquiry, saying it has nothing to hide. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last weekend sharply criticized U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed Larsen as having a "pro-Palestinian bias," and considered severing contact with him after the diplomat said he found Israel's actions in Jenin "morally repugnant." Mr. Larsen has been accused of having participated in a cover-up of an investigation of the murder of three Israeli soldiers abducted by Palestinian gunmen in a car with U.N. markings.
Maj. David Zangen, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer for Jenin, told reporters on Sunday that the Israeli army searched but never blocked ambulances. He said the Jenin hospital was never out of reach for residents of the refugee camps.
The death count in Jenin has been impossible to determine, with estimates varying from a few dozen to several hundred. The U.N. agency that cares for Palestinian refugees estimated this weekend that as many as 5,000 in the camp are now homeless. Earlier accusations that the Israelis conducted a "massacre" have been largely discounted.

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