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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Results of Fighting in Jenin Unclear

Aired April 12, 2002 - 07:30   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the bloodiest fighting in the current West Bank operation has been in Jenin, site of a large Palestinian refugee camp. There have been conflicting reports about whether or not there was a massacre in the camp. Israel is saying 200 Palestinians were killed. Many of them, they claim, were terrorists. Palestinian officials saying, it was as high as 500. They claim most of the victims, civilians.

Our Ben Wedeman was just in Jenin and joins us now from outside that city. Ben, you talk about the challenge of reporting this story, because no one could get anywhere close to Jenin. How did you get in?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we took a back road very early in the morning and we've been exploring the various routes into the city. And this time, we got lucky. We had to, basically drive around, to avoid running into any Israeli Army tanks or armored personnel carriers. And we did manage to get well inside the city. Now we did try to approach the refugee camp, but were turned back with a group of about, another ten journalists as well.

And after that, we drove around, and one thing we saw was hundreds of men from the eastern section of the city heading in towards the center of the city. They had apparently been ordered by the Israeli Army to go collect, on a street called Haifa Street where it is assumed they were going to be questioned and registered. And in most cases, they - most of them - are released afterwards.

We also had the chance to go to a building, a charitable society that is now inhabited by somewhere between 350 and 400 people who fled from that refugee camp. They are living in very cramped and crowded conditions. They are running low on water. They have very little medicine, very little food. And the sanitation conditions inside are very difficult. And all of the, almost all of them told us stories of mass graves, of bodies being loaded into trucks and driven away. Of bodies being left in the sewers and bulldozed.

Now all of these stories, obviously, we have no way of confirming. The Israeli Army denies that any of this has happened. But until we get into the refugee camp and can see for ourselves, the question mark remains. What did happen inside that camp during about ten days of intense fighting? How many people were killed? We just don't know. And we still are not able to get inside that refugee camp. So, what has happened, essentially, and I've been watching the Arabic television stations, the satellite stations, is that basically it is now taken as a fact, as the truth by millions of Arabs that a massacre did take place within that camp. But we, ourselves, have no way of confirming that. And until we get inside, the stories will mount. There will be evermore accounts, but no way to verify them. Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Ben, very quickly here, so is it true that about all the Israeli officials have confirmed at this point is that some 200 Palestinians have died here?

WEDEMAN: We don't know. That is their version of the events. They say around 200. Palestinians say 500. The Red Cross is somewhere in between. But really, until some sort of verifiable accounting takes place, we don't know. And these are just numbers being thrown out that no one really can verify. So, I wish I could give you a better number, a more solid number but we just don't have it. Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Ben Wedeman, thank you. Joining us from just outside Jenin, one of the few reporters that has gotten anywhere near those camps that have suffered enormous damage.

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