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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Accusations and Denial About what Happened at the Jenin Camp

Aired April 28, 2002 - 07:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: There have been a lot of accusations and denial about what happened in the Jenin refugee camp during the recent Israeli attacks in the West Bank. Our Sheila MacVicar spoke with a Palestinian gunman who survived the fighting in Jenin, and she asked him some pretty blunt questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israeli defense force helicopters offer an aerial view of the Jenin camp. You can see the camp's destroyed heart. From the sky, the damage appears to be localized. What you cannot see beneath the roofs still standing, the heavily damaged buildings below.

As it waits for the arrival of the U.N. fact-finding mission, Israel is deeply stung by the international criticism of its tactics here and allegations of a massacre. The Israeli government is considering declaring the U.N. envoy who toured the camp last week persona non grata and expelling him.

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, U.N. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: This is horrifying beyond belief.

MACVICAR: Because, they say, his criticism was unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There we not a massacre, period, in any way whatsoever.

MACVICAR: At every Israeli military briefing, officers now emphasize over and over that Israeli troops did not commit a massacre, they say, and that Jenin, they say, was a center of terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Israel is fighting a legitimate fight.

MACVICAR: The battle for Jenin is finished. The war of words continues. The latest and unlikely venue for that war, an Israeli prison and an unusual interview offered by Israeli officials with this Palestinian fighter, a senior member of Islamic Jihad who surrendered in Jenin.

How many fighters were you?

TABAAT MARDAWI, ISLAMIC JIHAD: [translated] There were 60 or 70 fighters from those in the camp, and then another 20 or 30 from Palestinian security forces. All together, about 100.

MACVICAR: Tabaat Mardawi's estimate is not that far from the Israeli military estimate of 200 fighters. He drew a map of the camp and talked about the course of the battle. Their weapons, he said, were guns and locally made bombs and booby traps.

MARDAWI: There were different sizes. Big ones for tanks. A few dozens of those, and others the size of a water bottle. Anti- personnel bombs, maybe 1,000, 2,000 throughout the camp.

MACVICAR: But they thought the Israelis would attack with planes and tanks, not foot soldiers.

You did not expect the Israeli forces to enter the camp using infantry?

MARDAWI: It was like hunting, like being given a prize. I couldn't believe it when I saw the soldiers. The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed. I've been waiting for a moment like that for years.

MACVICAR: Like the Israeli soldiers, he said the fighting was fierce.

MARDAWI: It was a very hard fight. We fought at close quarters, sometimes just a matter of a few meters between us. Sometimes even in the same house.

MACVICAR: We asked the question we have been brought to the prison to ask. Did you see anything that in the conventional sense of the term could be defined as a massacre?

MARDAWI: By my own standard, what happened there was a massacre. But if you're asking did I see tens of people killed? Frankly, no. In my group, we were in an area with no other people. Three fighters with me were killed. Later, when we started to move from place to place, we saw destroyed houses and could smell bodies.

MACVICAR: Mardawi and the others had vowed to fight until death. In the end, what defeated them was the armored bulldozer.

MARDAWI: A huge bulldozer came in. And we were in destroyed houses. There were no soldiers or tanks. There was nothing I could do against that bulldozer. I had a gun. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wouldn't have even heard the shooting. What could I do? I just surrendered or stayed to be buried under the rubble.

MACVICAR: And that is Israel's argument. With Israeli soldiers dying, the bulldozer was a tactical necessity to end the fighting, they say, and the devastation of the camp's unfortunate collateral damage. The question for U.N. fact-finders, was such devastation necessary to deal with 100 to 200 fighters? In the war of public opinion, Israel is using whatever weapons it can find. As for Tabaat Mardawi, he saw our TV crew before he was allowed to see a lawyer.

Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Keshon (ph) prison, Israel. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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