THE devastation at the Jenin refugee camp was "horrific beyond belief", the United Nations Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said yesterday.
The Israeli army's refusal to allow medical teams in for 11
days was unacceptable, he said.
"It is totally unacceptable that the government of Israel for 11 days did not allow search and rescue teams to come. This is morally repugnant," said Mr. Roed-Larsen.
"Israel has a right to self defence but that does not give it a
In his strongest rebuke of Israel yet, Jack Straw, the
Foreign Secretary, called yesterday for an international
investigation into the actions of the Israeli military in
"Such is the scale of the evidence that there is a strong
case for Israel to answer," he said.
Mr Roed-Larsen visited the camp, scene of the biggest
battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, as
the army began to withdraw from the city of Jenin.
No troops could be seen inside the camp - a small shanty
town on the edge of the city. But snipers were still in
position in high buildings.
The government later announced that the army would
leave the city overnight and troops would quit the city of
Nablus by the weekend. The army would stay on the
outskirts of these cities, poised to return. However, the
blockade of the Ramallah compound of the Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat would remain in place.
Troops would also remain in the centre of Bethlehem,
besieging the Church of the Nativity, the site of Jesus's
birth, where about 30 Palestinian militants have sought
refuge, alongside dozens of civilians, priests and monks.
Palestinians began digging through the ruins of Jenin to
find signs of their loved ones. One man reported that five
people had been found alive but this was later denied by
the hospital authorities.
So far only 21 bodies have been recovered though it is
expected that dozens more will be exhumed from under
the rubble of buildings.
Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh, a human rights lawyer, is part of
an Amnesty International delegation looking into the Jenin
"What we have been able to discover so far indicates
grave violations of human rights and international
humanitarian law," she said yesterday. "Depending on
what we find later, and whether there are any patterns to
discover, this may constitute a war crime."
Human rights activists are focusing on the refusal of
medical access to the camp, which they say probably
added to the death toll.
Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine at
Dundee University, said: "The International Committee of
the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent
ambulances were denied access.
"What is striking is that there are no seriously injured. We
have walking wounded and the dead. In such a conflict
you would expect to have more wounded than dead. They
died because of denial of access by medical teams."
Prof Pounder, a veteran of Chechnya and other conflicts,
said the preliminary evidence showed that homes had
been bulldozed on people.
"Our reports suggest that as the fighting progressed
people moved from house to house to escape," he said.
"When the battle caught up with them, the houses had a
great accumulation of people in them, up to 40 in a room.
During a 13-day battle it is reasonable to expect that a
period could have been found to evacuate the wounded."
Prof Pounder has carried out post mortem examinations
on only two bodies so far. He is permitted by the
Palestinian authorities to operate only on unidentified
bodies, since the next of kin have proved impossible to
Gideon Meir, a senior official of the Israeli Foreign
Ministry, said last night that no homes had been bulldozed
on top of people.
"The terrorists are to blame for the destruction of the
houses," he said. "It is they who planted bombs and
booby-traps in every house."
The Israeli army lost 23 soldiers, a relatively high toll,
including 13 killed in a single ambush.
The crowded refugee camp, a centre for Islamic militants
who pledged to fight to the death, was said have been the
source of half of the suicide bombers who blew
themselves up inside Israel.
The Israeli army announced the capture of one of the
leaders of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic
Resistance Movement, who is accused of involvement in
some of the worst suicide bombings. Husam Badran was
arrested by commandos during an attack on his hideout