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UN Envoy Criticizes Israel - 2002-04-18


Israeli tanks and troops have begun pulling out of the West Bank city of Jenin, the scene of fierce fighting between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers. A top United Nations official called conditions in a refugee camp there "horrifying beyond belief."

U.N. Middle East envoy Terry Larsen says he is shocked at the devastation in the Jenin refugee camp, saying the mountains of rubble look like the aftermath of an earthquake.

Mr. Larsen says the stench of decaying corpses is evident throughout the camp. "I saw two brothers digging out of the rubble their father and their brothers," he said. "There are people all over the place digging with their hands, looking for their relatives and dear ones. It is a horrible scene."

Mr. Larsen criticized the Israeli government for failing to allow search and rescue teams unrestricted access to the camp - a decision he calls "morally repugnant."

Mr. Larsen says Israel must allow aid organizations and the United Nations into the area to mount a major humanitarian operation.

He estimates about 2,000 Palestinians in the camp are homeless.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for search and rescue teams to help remove bodies and hunt for possible survivors buried beneath the rubble.

Israel has allowed some organizations to operate on a limited basis since early this week, and soldiers are expected to pullout of the area soon.

Witnesses say some Israeli forces have left the camp, which was devastated by house-to-house fighting.

Palestinians say hundreds of people are buried in the rubble. Israeli officials say dozens of people, mostly gunmen, were killed in the Jenin camp.

Israeli officials vehemently deny Palestinian charges that a massacre occurred there.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says the military will pull out of Jenin, Nablus and parts of Ramallah by Sunday.

He says, however, troops will remain around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and will continue to surround Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity until wanted Palestinians in both places surrender.

Israel began its massive offensive in the West Bank late last month after a series of Palestinian suicide attacks killed dozens of Israelis.

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