Amnesty International accuses Israel of Jenin war crimes

(C) Reuters Limited 2002.
LONDON, April 22 (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused Israel on
Monday of serious human rights abuses during its occupation of the
Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin and pressed for a full investigation
to see if they amounted to war crimes.

Basing its allegations on statements from Palestinians and what it said
was evidence from its own observers who entered the West Bank town
minutes after the Israeli withdrawal, Amnesty said it had clear evidence
of serious crimes.

"We have concluded, on a preliminary basis, that very serious violations
of human rights were committed. We are talking here (about) war crimes,"
Javier Zuniga, the human rights group's regional director, told a news
conference.

"We believe that Israel has a case to answer."

Palestinians say several hundred people may have died during the Jenin
offensive, part of an assault on the West Bank launched after scores of
Israelis died in a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

Israel has come under international pressure over the incursion into the
camp, which it described as a nest of terrorists. It says about 70
Palestinians, mostly fighters, died during fierce street battles.

The Israeli army has denied allegations of a "massacre" and said it
took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties although it has
admitted some were killed in the fighting, which reduced large swathes
of the refugee camp to rubble.

CHILDREN AND ELDERLY CAUGHT IN FIGHTING

Kathleen Cavanaugh, a law lecturer from Galway University in Ireland,
said Amnesty's charges came under three major areas: the destruction
of property, the use of excessive force and its failure to protect
civilian refugees living in the town.

She also cited Palestinian witness statements suggesting the army had
carried out "a number of extrajudicial executions, particularly at
the early stages of its incursion".

Old people and children caught up in the fighting said they had also
been given no chance to flee the scenes of the battle, Cavanaugh said.

Forensic pathologist Derrick Pounder from Dundee University in
Scotland, who had just returned from Jenin, said the lack of severely
injured people admitted to the hospital backed claims that Palestinian
doctors and ambulance men had been impeded.

"There were no severely injured in the hospital, and very few corpses.
It is inconceivable that, as well as the dead, there were not large
numbers of severely injured," said Pounder, who estimated a conflict of
this nature and intensity would have produced roughly three badly
injured victims to every one dead.

He said he saw 21 Palestinians corpses in Jenin hospital. The casualties
were a mixture of civilian and military, he said, and included three
women.

One was a 52-year-old man, wearing sandals, who had been shot in the
chest, and another 38-year-old, wearing ordinary clothes, had been shot
in the back and the top of the foot.

"The claim that only fighters were killed is simply not true," Pounder
said. "In Jenin, there have certainly been mass killings - both of
combatants and civilians."

Pounder said the refugee camp should now be treated as a crime scene,
and a full international team of investigators similar to The Hague
Tribunal for former Yugoslavia be allowed in to try and piece together
exactly what happened.

Amnesty said it had found no evidence of mass graves or any support for
allegations that women had been raped by troops.