Testimonies in Arab media from Palestinian commanders support Israel’s contention that its soldiers fought fierce battles at the Jenin refugee camp with gunmen who used booby traps and civilians, including children, to engage in ‘guerrilla warfare,’ according to translations by the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
The Palestinians insist the Israeli army carried out a massacre of hundreds of civilians earlier this month.
“The truth is that the fighting is being conducted from neighborhood to neighborhood, like guerrilla warfare,” Sheikh Jamal Abu Al-Hija, the commander of the Hamas Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades in the Jenin refugee camp, told the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera during the battle.
Israel contends that the purpose of its eight-day offensive in Jenin was to root out the base of operations for more than 20 suicide bomb attacks. The Israelis claim it resulted in the deaths of dozens of gunmen and limited, unavoidable civilian casualties. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a U.N. fact-finding team to the West Bank site.
“Believe me, there are children stationed in the houses with explosive belts at their sides,” said Abu Jandal, commander of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad at the Jenin camp, in an interview during the battle with Al-Jazeera. “Today, one of the children came to me with his school bag. I asked him what he wanted, and he replied, ‘Instead of books, I want an explosive device, in order to attack … .'”
Abu Jandal said, “I, the commander of the battle of the Jenin camp, have chosen for myself the name ‘The Martyr Abu Jandal,’ because all the fighters around me are martyrs.”
Women and children included
The London based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that in Jenin a Palestinian woman named Ilham ‘Ali Dasouqi had blown herself up among Israeli soldiers, killing two and wounding six.
The Egyptian government-sponsored Al-Ahram Weekly published an interview with “Omar,” a young, one-armed Islamic Jihad bomb maker who told how the Palestinians booby-trapped Jenin and included women and children in the battles:
Omar said “in Jenin all the factions were loyal to only one cause: liberation or death … .”
Their plan, he said, was “to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month.”
- Omar and other “engineers” made hundreds of explosive devices and carefully chose their locations.
“We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them,” (Omar) said. “We cut off lengths of main water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four meters apart throughout the houses – in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas.”
The fighters hoped to disable the Israeli army’s tanks with much more powerful bombs placed inside garbage bins on the street. More explosives were hidden inside the cars of Jenin’s most wanted men. Connected by wires, the bombs were set off remotely, triggered by the current from a car battery.
According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where the explosives were located so that there was no danger of civilians being injured. It was the one weakness in the plan.
“We were betrayed by the spies among us,” he says.
The wires to more than a third of the bombs were cut by soldiers accompanied by collaborators.
“If it hadn’t been for the spies, the soldiers would never have been able to enter the camp,” (Omar said.) “Once they penetrated the camp, it was much harder to defend it.”
And what about the explosion and ambush last Tuesday which killed 13 soldiers?
“They were lured there,” he says. “We all stopped shooting and the women went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving.”
The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby-trapped area.
“When the senior officers realized what had happened, they shouted through megaphones that they wanted an immediate cease-fire,” (Omar said.) “We let them approach to retrieve the men and then opened fire. Some of the soldiers were so shocked and frightened that they mistakenly ran towards us.”
Raed ‘Abbas, a fighter from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Jenin camp, told Al-Hayat that “all the fighters were sworn to fight to the end.”
“The talk of fighters surrendering is completely untrue,” he said. “If it were true, how come two Israeli soldiers were killed Monday morning? We estimate that their losses are much greater than what they are reporting. Battles between them and us are being waged at extremely short range. They have failed in all their attempts to advance, and our fighters are blowing themselves up in front of them and planting explosive devices on the roads. The situation is extremely dire. The (Israeli) air force is continuing its bombing. A few moments ago they launched several missiles, which set fire to many houses.”
Another man, Abu Muhammad, reported to Al-Jazeera from Jenin: “Every time (the Israel Defense Force) tries to advance, a surprise awaits it – the blowing up of one of the buildings in the Jenin camp. Then they rush to retrieve the Israeli bodies and wounded, withdraw, and try to advance Israeli tractors that destroy houses indiscriminately on top of their owners, whether they are in the houses or not. They have sent away most of the civilians (from the refugee camp), but there is still a large number of civilians inside the camp.”
Did civilians leave?
Arab media included contradictory reports about whether civilians left the camp during the battle.
Raed ‘Abbas, the DFLP commander, said that the Israelis “destroyed many houses. They are trying to wreak vengeance upon the civilians. The army is evacuating the (residents of the) camp forcibly, in order to close in more and more on the fighters.”
In contrast, Islamic Jihad said its commander in Jenin, Muhammad Tawalbeh, had prevented civilians from leaving the camp. Tawalbeh died in his booby-trapped home when he blew it up with Israeli soldiers inside on April 6, according to the Islamic Jihad website.
Tawalbeh “had thwarted all attempts by the occupation to evacuate the camp residents to make it easier for the Israelis to destroy (the camp) on the heads of the fighters,” the announcement said.
In an interview with Al-Manar, the Hezbollah television channel, Islamic Jihad leader Dr. Ramadan Abdallah Shalah said ‘the fighters in the (Jenin) camp told us that this is a ‘hit-and-not-run’ battle, and that they are fighting to the last drop of blood and to the last bullet – and that is what they did.
“The Zionist enemy thinks he is creating a Palestinian Masada for us – that is, that we have chosen to commit suicide – but we say to him that he is mistaken,” the Islamic Jihad leader said, referring to the 1st century Roman assault on the fortress Masada where a group of Jewish Zealots seeking refuge chose to die rather than be captured.
“We are not creating a Palestinian Masada, but a Palestinian Karbalaa, which will hasten the second Jewish Masada … until the Zionist entity ceases to exist … ,” he said, speaking of the battle of Karbala’a in AD 680, which established “martyrdom” in Shi’ite tradition.
“Today the Jenin camp was reborn, not destroyed … .”