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18 April 2002 Edition

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Horror in Jenin

Speaking to An Phoblacht just minutes after witnessing the horrors inflicted by the Israeli Army on Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, Belfast-based Italian journalist Silvio Cerulli has called on the international community to stop the butchery of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Army and Ariel Sharon.

"How can the world let this butchery go on unpunished?" asked a clearly distraught Silvio Cerulli.

He described by phone to An Phoblacht Northern editor Peadar Whelan how on entering the Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank, he witnessed at first hand the mass destruction caused by the Israeli Army in its three-week campaign against the Palestinian people.

"The first rows of houses, which were two- and three-story buildings, were just piles of rubble," he said.

"Sharon didn't repeat the mistake of 1982 in Sabra and Shatilla, when for days after the slaughter the bodies were there to be seen. In Jenin, for six days after the fighting the Israeli soldiers removed the evidence of their massacres.

"They flattened the whole camp using tanks and Apache attack helicopters. Only a few houses are intact.

"Woman are screaming from small dunes of rubble. There are bodies still buried beneath these dunes and we don't know how many," he said.

"One old woman took my hand, bringing me to her house, which was raked by helicopter gunfire. There were three blackened bodies lying on the floor. The smell of decay was so strong it was hard to breathe. One of the bodies had been decapitated but the head was nowhere to be seen. In the house next door, which was also riddled with holes, there were pieces of human bodies stuck to the walls.

"The silence is only broken by screams and laments," says Cerulli. "A child was screaming for help, having just found a human leg in the rubble."

He reports that the Israelis found the maze of lanes and streets in the refugee camp too narrow for their tanks, so the helicopters fired rockets to destroy the houses and bulldozers opened the way for the tanks. Entire families were buried alive, most of them are now dead.

From time to time the Israeli snipers still fire to scare children and women.

"I can hardly believe what I've witnessed," Cerulli tod An Phoblacht. "The men are dead and bodies are piled up in the dust. The smell is atrocious."

He explained that the Israelis are now letting some food and water into the camp but they are still preventing medical aid reaching the wounded and injured.

"A child brought me to his aunt. She had been hit in the abdomen by a dum-dum bullet. She lay shivering in a pool of blood, no doctor can get to her - she is dying."

Palestinians are calling for the United Nations to open an investigation into the Jenin massacre. Although the camp falls under UN jurisdiction, the Israelis just don't care. They are claiming to have killed 100 "terrorists" but local people are saying the death toll may be as high as 1,000.

Cerulli said an old man told him that the Israelis were piling up bodies and burning them while others were bulldozed into the sewerage system. Another report said that the Israelis took bodies away and buried them in a mass grave in the Jordan Valley.

"Death and horror are everywhere," says Cerulli. He told how a dusty doll, hanging in the wire, which a woman told him belonged to a three-year-old child killed by Israeli machine gun fire.

It was at that point that Cerulli and a number of other journalists were surrounded by a number of armoured Israeli personnel carriers and were forced from the camp.

"I walked out feeling a numbness that's just like paralysis," he said. "We don't care about the threat from the snipers and the heavy Merkava tanks. How can this butchery go unpunished?"

The previous night, Tuesday 16 April, Cerulli had been in West Jerusalem, where Israelis were celebrating the 54th anniversary of the state of Israel. Here is his report:

Draped with stars of David and Israeli flags, West Jerusalem celebrated the 54th anniversary of the Israeli state with parades, music and fireworks. It was unreal, and also sickening.

While they have every right to have their own state and to defend themselves, the Israelis have no right to deny a state to anyone else, let alone in such an evil way. At the very same time, in the Arab part of the city only a mile away, the Israeli army is invading two Palestinian districts in East Jerusalem: no street parties here, only house arrests and curfew; machine-guns instead of fireworks.

Nothing will be the same again after Sharon's Defensive Shield operation, now into its third week and without any sign of ending. "We have to finish the job," says Sharon. There will be no way back.

Not because of the deportations (over 5,000 arrests), not because of the suffering and the mourning which will seed more mornings. After the carnage the Israelis will not return inside their own borders: they will expand them with a new buffer zone just approved by the Knesset.

Far from bringing peace and security, the exclusion zone means the annexation of 58% of the Occupied Territories.

Erecting electric fences, like those already existing in Gaza, around Palestinian cities will transform Palestine into a patchwork of bantustans with no territorial continuity and, moreover, it will cage people into open prisons.

Sharon says the invasion was "necessary to remove suicide bombers cells", but with massacres reported all over the West Bank, how many new martyrs has he created?

A new wave of attacks will be inevitable as the Palestinians will be keen to prove that the military repression has failed. But while the Israeli people were losing faith with their premier, now Sharon is their hero, after the arrest of Marwan Barghouti, secretary general of the Fatah movement.

He was the man most wanted by the Israelis, and while the arrest may catapult the region into an explosion of violence, it has also made all the diplomatic efforts useless.

Secretary of State Powell leaves today empty-handed. The American administration is de facto legitimising Israel's position above any international legality and UN resolutions, duly diluted and stripped of any mechanism or date for an Israeli withdrawal.

Sharon is the first Israeli prime minister who dared to say 'No' to their American protectors - it didn't even occur in 1973, when Nixon stopped Israeli tanks a few miles out of Cairo - a heavy blow for George W Bush, who has been weakened and humiliated by Sharon's thirst for blood.

The Arab states are now asking the international community to act like it acted in other situations where it deemed that the human rights peoples had been violated. But no economic sanctions will be imposed on Israel and no international peacekeepers will be deployed.

The Hizbollah are unleashing rockets daily against the north of Israel. Syria is moving its tank divisions towards the Golan Heights, the turmoil is spreading to neighbouring countries and tensions are running high.

It can blow away all the Arab armies, but from what I have witnessed, the Israeli Army won't be capable of defeating the Palestinian resistance.

An Phoblacht
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