Desperate search for survivors in Jenin

Published: 17 April 2002 0:00 CET

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) emergency teams finally entered Jenin refugee camp on Monday and are now involved in a desperate race against time to rescue survivors who may be trapped in the rubble.

PRCS today formally requested "experienced international teams specialized in urban search and recovery, rescue and unexploded ordinance." Heavy equipment and possibly search dogs may also be required, according to a statement from the PRCS operations room in Ramallah.

On the ground, team members spoke of scenes of horrific destruction, the unbearable stench of death, continuous sounds of explosions and lack of food and water.

"We were allowed into a very small section of the camp", said Khaldoun Uweis of the Palestine Red Crescent Society. "This is unbelievable. At least 75 per cent of the camp has been destroyed, houses were demolished turning alleys into wide streets to allow tanks to roll through them."

Over two weeks passed since fighting began in the camp. After attempting for six days to enter the camp, medical teams were escorted in on Monday by the Israeli army into a small part of the camp. Movement is restricted. So far 14 bodies have been recovered from the camp in addition to 23 bodies recovered from Jenin town.

Other bodies could not be pulled out of the rubble due to the high risks involved. "Many of the buildings are not stable," Shene Dabrowski, a Canadian ICRC rescuer, said on the phone from the camp. "We need unexploded ordinance teams and urban search and rescue teams to help us dig out bodies from under the rubble. We don't have proper equipment. We don't even have helmets."

Dabrowski spoke of highly trained teams of experts with the knowledge and expertise to deal with extreme danger the collapsed and unstable buildings might pose to rescuers. "Specialist rescue teams are needed here," he said.

Explosions could still be heard inside the camp. And the army has restricted movement so severely that the teams were able to see no more than a tiny part of the camp. Judging from the extent of the structural damage I am expecting to find many more dead under the rubble."

Dr. Hossam Sharkawi, Advisor and Emergency Response Coordinator at the PRCS, said that they were considering issuing an appeal for assistance to deal with the disastrous situation unfolding in the camp. "The situation is very hazardous, bodies are strewn around, some already decomposing."

A gun shot victim was found as Dabrowski spoke. "I am sending a team to get this man who seems to have been injured 5 days ago, but is still alive." The situation continues to unfold. No one knows exactly the extent of the death and the destruction in the camp.

In a related development, the VI European Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference which is now taking place in Berlin, issued a statement expressing shock at "the horrific consequences of the present conflict on the civilian population." It described the repeated attacks against relief workers, hospitals, buildings or vehicles carrying out humanitarian work as "flagrant violations of International Humanitarian Law" and expressed profound concern regarding "blockades that prevent humanitarian workers from reaching those in need of assistance."