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What really happened in Jenin?

A first-hand look at a refugee camp that has become a global symbol

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It was raining when First Lt. Yoni Wolff led his platoon down the hillside at the southern edge of the Jenin refugee camp during the early hours of April 3. He and his fellow soldiers made their way carefully into what he calls "a well-prepared-for-battle terrorist camp."

More than two weeks later, vast swathes of the camp are heaps of cement rubble riven with twisted lengths of construction steel. Here and there, amid the dusty grayness, are signs of humanity: a hairbrush, a child's electronic keyboard, a plastic flower. And of war: bullet casings in several sizes, missile fragments, a section of cladding from an armored personnel carrier.

What lies under this crush is already the subject of international scrutiny. There are bodies – but how many? Are they the remains of Palestinians who fought the Israelis – or of civilians?

Mohammed Abu Ghali, the director of Jenin's main hospital, said Wednesday that 22 bodies have been recovered, some brought out during the first days of fighting, others only now being discovered. His workers on Wednesday removed a shapeless, fly-swarmed clump of brownish matter, the remains of a body crushed under the treads of a tank.

Wearing green scrubs and a white lab coat during a search for the dead, a sweaty Dr. Abu Ghali estimates the toll at "more than 300." "All the hills you have seen," he says, referring to the pulverized buildings throughout the camp, "they have people still inside them. Some people tell me there are a dozen here, a dozen there."

Yesterday Israeli forces began to withdraw from the camp, clearing the way for residents to return, aid workers to assist them, and investigators to determine what happened during eight days of often intense fighting.

Researchers will have to reconcile Palestinian accounts of an indiscriminate onslaught with the Israeli version of its Jenin incursion.

* * *

Lieutenant Wolff says his platoon had to fight its way through the camp's narrow alleys in its search for Palestinian militants and their stores of weapons and bombs – what Israel calls the "infrastructure of terror."


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