'Horrifying' scene at Jenin, U.N. envoy says
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JENIN, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli troops began withdrawing from the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday, leaving behind a scene the U.N. special envoy to the region described as catastrophic.
Israel sent troops into Jenin on April 3 to clear out what it called a terrorist haven. What happened there is still a point of contention between the Palestinians, who claim several hundred died in the incursion; and the Israelis, who say only a few dozen people -- mostly combatants -- were killed.
U.N. officials have sought to enter the area for more than 10 days in order to make their own independent assessment. Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. special envoy to the Middle East, visited the refugee camp Thursday and told CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour what he saw.
AMANPOUR: What did you find when you went into the Jenin refugee camp?
ROED-LARSEN: We went in today with the U.N. team -- together with Peter Hansen, the head of UNRWA, the relief and works agency for the Palestinians -- and the scene was horrifying and shocking. Both those concerns what we saw, what we heard, and what we smelled.
The smell was horrible -- decaying corpses below the rubble. And we saw, for instance, a 12-year-old boy being -- with some people digging with their hands -- they were digging him out, and his burned completely, demolished body. We saw, for instance, two brothers who were digging out their father and their other brothers below the rubble, the corpses in pieces. It was horrible, an absolutely unbelievable scene.
And what we also know after our visit is that must be about 2,000 people who do not have roofs above their heads. They need shelter immediately. We also know that there is an acute need of food, water, and medicine. The electricity system is completely destroyed. The water pipes are cut. It is a scene of catastrophe of major proportions. It looks as if there has been an earthquake there.
AMANPOUR: The Israelis deny all the charges of a massacre. They say that what happened here was a very fierce battle, and they admit there were major casualties, both on their side and on the Palestinian side. What do you think happened? Are you ready to make accusations, or are you basically now evaluating? What do you think is the reality of what happened?
ROED-LARSEN: I cannot judge at this point in time. I can only report on what I saw, and what I heard and what I smelled. I cannot say that there wasn't a massacre, but I cannot say there was a massacre.
But I think that the question of an international investigation is a highly relevant question on the basis of what I saw, and I think it isn't unnecessary to penetrate, to find out exactly what is the situation there and why did it happen.
AMANPOUR: So, what needs to happen now? Aid agencies have said they can't begin to search under the rubble because there is not the equipment. What are you asking for now?
ROED-LARSEN: First and foremost, we are asking for two things. One is that international search and rescue teams are allowed to go in immediately, and there are reasons for criticizing severely the government of Israel for not themselves conducting a search and rescue operation.
What I could see for the few hours I was there today -- the people with their bare hands digging out bodies -- this should have been done by the Israeli military occupiers for the time they were there.
Now, the government of Israel had to give us access with the proper expertise and the proper instruments for doing such a search in an effective manner. Then, secondly, equally important is that we get in food, medicine and water to the needy population and also to build temporary shelters for the thousands of people -- about half of them being under the age of 15 -- who now are suffering in there.
And also -- this, of course, comes second -- there is a situation of anarchy and chaos not only in the refugee camp, but in the city and in the government. The Palestinian Authority's institutions are more or less destroyed. There's no security apparatus. There's no police functions. There is no apparatus to take care of law and order. The situation is very dangerous.
And I would like to add that the situation is not only dangerous for the population, the situation is also, security-wise, dangerous for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Because it may be that the infrastructure of the terrorists have been destroyed or damaged here, but what is more important is that there is now built a mental infrastructure of hatred and aggression, which is very dangerous.
AMANPOUR: The Palestinians have charged the Israelis with war crimes. They point to not allowing ambulances throughout the battles, and even thereafter, from evacuating wounded [or] the dead. They point to the use of human shields, and, of course, the Israelis accuse Yasser Arafat of war crimes for sending suicide bombers into Israel. What, in terms of international law, happened, do you think? How does one describe not allowing ambulances in, using human shields?
ROED-LARSEN: I will not at this stage go into a legal discussion, but what I can say is that it is evident -- because international humanitarian organizations have not been given access -- that there are very clear violations of basic humanitarian principles. I would not like to go into the legal issues right now, but it's evident from what I saw today that the question is relevant.
AMANPOUR: You are going to have or gather together a meeting of some of the major donors to deal with the devastation, the infrastructure devastation, that has taken place over the last several weeks in the Palestinian territories. What is the level of need there in the territories?
ROED-LARSEN: I cannot assess that here and now. There will, next Wednesday on the 24th in Oslo, be a major donor meeting where my office, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others will give an assessment of what is needed here. But it is very evident that a major donor effort is required, because what we have being reporting from Jenin today is also by and large the case in many other of the other Palestinian cities.
AMANPOUR: In terms of the civilian infrastructure?
ROED-LARSEN: Exactly. And also, as concerns rebuilding of infrastructure, and not the least rebuilding Palestinian institutions, which can carry the society for the next months because the Palestinian Authority institutions are so damaged that they're not very well functioning any longer.
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