Brigadier General Ron Kitrey, IDF Spokesman National Media Center, Jerusalem,
April 9, 2002
Brigadier General Ron Kitrey, IDF Spokesman:
I almost said good evening, but it is not a very good evening for us unfortunately. I came here to share with you today’s events, this morning’s events in the town of Jenin, in which we lost thirteen reservists, infantry soldiers. Several more soldiers were wounded. I would like to start with a sharing of the grief we feel, the empathy, the sympathy we feel towards the families of those thirteen soldiers. We would like to share with you the need that we had to embargos our announcement concerning this event, because we have a strict rule, that is to let the families know first about what happened to their dear ones, and only then to share it with the public through the media.
Unfortunately, during that event we had a certain period of time in which we couldn’t find three soldiers. Later on, and that is why we had the need to embargo all the information, we found them, all dead unfortunately under the ruins of a certain building. Only then could we actually go to the families complete with that sad information and then come out to the media.
We are fighting in Jenin for about a week. Jenin is the northern town of Samaria, the West Bank area. I checked: 23 terrorist attacks came out from Jenin, before the operation that we are handling now actually started. Twenty three. Several of them were suicide attacks, especially on Afula, Hadera, the northern and north west part of Israel. We went there because the Palestinian Authority did not give us an option. We counted on them to take care of terrorism coming from there, and not only that they were not doing their job which is a part of the agreement with us, they are even responsible for several of the attacks here. So we had to go there and sent over soldiers, both reservists and regulars, in order to root out the terror infrastructure.
The degree of the violent resistance that we faced there, was to a degree beyond our expectations, probably the most bitter and harsh resistance that we faced from all other towns or cities of Judea and Samaria. We faced hundreds, maybe coming to more then a thousand explosive charges, live explosive charges and some more sophisticated ones. We face hundreds of hand grenades and of course light weapons like Kalashnikov’s, and of guns and light machine guns etc. At the beginning we faced hundreds of gunmen, several of them terrorists, other militias and now we believe that there are still several dozens of them. I cannot tell you, I do not know if there are 40 or 60 or 80 at the last area in which Palestinian terrorist resistance still exists. Actually we offered them fair surrender to give up their weapons, and to surrender to our troops in order to avoid more casualties mainly on their side but also on our side. We got nothing but more shooting, and as I said, quite severe resistance.
They have chosen deliberately the environment of civilian neighborhoods, civilian areas. That is the typical way guerrilla and terror warfare is carried out around the world. and this made it especially difficult for us, because of the methods, limitations and means that we can, could use in such a vicinity. We know there are civilians there, that’s why we don’t use more efficient means that could make things easier for us. We feel, we understand, that we paid the price today, a very bitter price, because of that reason.
The area itself, you can see behind me a view of the town of Jenin, the more dense, the more squeezed area is here you will be able to see later, closer. To see a blow up-here, with the red signal here, points out the area in which the blast took place. A very short description of the area – very dense and very narrow alleys between the buildings, two- to three-story buildings. We sent an infantry force in there, reinforced by some armor, engineers, medics, intelligence, field intelligence etc. again with a combination of regulars and reservists. I would like to like to note, with appreciation, profound appreciation, admiration even, their determination, to their persistence and their courage.
We had to take certain precautions, because of the civilian vicinity. We have given strict orders not to shoot, to hold back fire, the moment you see or feel civilian families, apart from that, we evacuated the area before we went in, or during the first stages of our operation there.
The actual clash happened when two separate forces combined from an infantry platoon, two very close one to another, but on two sides of a certain house, a certain row of houses. One of the forces was hit by what we call an ‘explosive charges arena’ that was preplanned and set in order to harm our troops. The other one was actually targeted by rifles, submachine guns from several places, like windows, roofs. They caught this small group of soldiers, six or seven of them, in a yard, a small courtyard neighboring several house around it. Again it was simultaneous attack and immediately most of the soldiers were hit and fell. The Palestinian terrorist snipers actually shot them later one by one.
We understand that along with the explosives arena there was a suicide bomber – we found remains of his body on the walls around the area of the clash.
We believe that there were something like 20 gunmen, 20 Palestinian terrorists there. They dragged two or three of the bodies to a neighboring house, that collapsed minutes later as we understand, because of the blast from the explosives arena and it took us time to find those three soldiers as we actually did, under the ruins of this house. Again we feel deep sorrow, and send our condolences to the families.
We shall continue to fulfill our missions, and try and do that with minimum harm to civilian life there, despite the fact that the Palestinians actually try to drag us deeper into those areas in which the civilian population is living.
Briefly, I would like to sum up the events in the north today, up on the northern border, about an hour and a half of shooting again, this has become a daily habit. In Mount Dov and the northern parts of the Golan heights, they hit this time a Druse village, and launched 5 Katyushas, 122 mm. Rockets. Also, a Katyusha fell very close to an Jewish/Israeli village. I will not mention the names of course not to benefit the Hizbullah or the Palestinian organization that actually shot those Katyushas.
Nasrallah today kept up with his disinformation efforts. The newest piece that I heard is that, unfortunately we had a car accident in the Caesarea area in which we lost six lives. Four of them were soldiers. He announced today that those four soldiers were actually killed along the Lebanese border by Hizbullah fire, and we dragged their bodies to Caesarea area in order to make to cover it up. That sums up my presentation. I’m ready to take some questions.
Q: I just wanted a couple more details on the ambush situation that you described. You mentioned that the Palestinians dragged some of the injured or wounded IDF soldiers into a house. Why would they do that?
A: I guess they wanted to gain possession of the bodies and then maybe to exchange, or to kind of blackmail. You know – we will give you the bodies of the soldiers if you will do that and that. It was so close that_ our soldiers that were not hit were actually so close that they could put a stop to it.
Q: Can you tell me what happened after that? Were all these 20 or so gunmen involved in the ambush, were they killed?
A: Several of them ran away, escaped, and we believe that several of them were hit, from nearby roofs or windows and so on.
Q: Considering what has happened today, how long do you think the Israeli troops will have to stay, has this extended the mission?
A: Personally I’ve said twice already, at least two days in a row, that we hope tonight to finish our mission there; we control the camp. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the resistance was beyond our expectations, so it took us more time. And again, in order to be very careful with what remained there of the civilian population, we felt we were restricted as to our means and methods. It will take us some more time; I cannot be specific, whether it will be 12 or 36 hours. But it is a matter of hours.
Q: You mentioned that there were 23 terror attacks from Jenin. Is that from September 2000?
A: Yes, during the time we describe as the armed conflict.
Q: About the explosives part of what happened in Jenin – you claim the bodies were dragged in and then the building collapsed when the bodies where inside?
A: So we understand. We haven’t yet had a deep and precise debriefing, but we’ll do that.
Q: How many Israeli soldiers were operating in the refugee camp? And you talked about means and methods. How have those means and methods changed [as a result of the attack today]?
A: The first question I cannot answer. As to the second one: I’m not sure they will change, because the basic assumption is that we are operating in a civilian neighborhood. That means we are not able to
use, for instance, air power, air strikes; we will not use them, at least for now. I’m not aware of any change in the methods.
Q: You said that there are no air strikes on Jenin? There have been lots of reports of using helicopters.
A: We are using helicopters for close support; but what I meant was jet planes with much larger firepower.
Q: Are you planning any further withdrawals tonight or tomorrow from any areas in the West Bank?
A: I cannot answer that. I am not aware of any political guidance to the military yet.
Q: How many Israeli soldiers have been killed in Jenin and how many have been injured? Can you give me the number of Palestinian casualties?
A: We assess the number of Palestinian casualties at around 100 in Jenin. The total in the Judea and Samaria area I cannot assess. I do not know the exact number of Israeli soldiers that were killed there, but I can make a calculation: 22 – 13 today plus 9 before.
I would like to make several remarks:
First, we are well aware from our officers in the field there, in Jenin, that the Palestinians actually refused our offers to assist them with humanitarian aid concerning the burial of bodies. We do have our information that they were ordered to leave the situation as is in order to manipulate and to put into the headlines the fact that this was a "massacre."
Secondly, I brought with me several examples of the explosives vests that we found in several depots in the various areas of Judea and Samaria in which we operated. These are only examples. We have many more. This is the way they do it. We found also wigs that would make it easier for them to penetrate our settlements or towns. We found IDF uniforms and we found yarmulkes, skullcaps, which Jewish people wear on their heads.
What I would like to show you in addition, with your permission, is a short movie that we have made from various depots that we have found, explosive labs, ammunition depots and so forth.
[A movie is shown. The following appears on the screen:]
Ramallah – Mukata’a compound – arms – ammunition – sniper rifle – anti tank weapons – RPG launcher – mortar shells.
Salfit – explosive lab for the production of pipe bombs.
Bethlehem – ammunition – rifles.
Nablus – explosive lab.
Bethlehem – Explosive charges right below the pavement, just outside the Church of Nativity, ready to explode.
Ramallah – mosque – ammunition and explosives for bomber vests.
Kalkiliya – booby-trapped car – car was exploded by sappers.
Ramallah – ammunition depot – assault rifles – RPG grenades – missiles.
Tulkarm – explosives.
Jenin – explosive laboratory – homemade rifles – several lathes for the production of rifles and shells.
1. It is not only the dead corpses they refuse to evacuate, but also wounded people – they would not allow us. They would shoot at medics who tried to assist.
2. The fact that there is such a strong resistance, and the fact that we are so much slower then expected in getting in, actually proves that there is not the slightest element of massacre, as they tried to describe it.
3. We actually should not have been there in the first place, but those elements that you have seen here made it impossible for us to ignore it anymore. That is why we are there. We feel it is the only way we can actually prevent terrorism in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Jerusalem, Hadera and so on.
Q: I just would like to know – at the beginning there were civilians; are there still civilians in the refugee camp?
Q: But I heard from people who have been phoning to them – they didn’t dare to go out. I mean, I heard it from people living close to the camp. In the camp there was no contact. Also there was shooting whenever loudspeakers called on people to come out of the house. Can you comment on that?
A: I can tell you it is a war going on there and we are aiming, we are shooting only at the sources of fire that shoot at us. The loudspeakers are not quiet for a second, I guess. They actually keep repeating for the people who wouldn’t like to be hurt to come out with their hands up. We check civilians, we do not hold them. We will let them go. Men will be checked if they have any kind of "background" that makes us suspicious, and what you heard is actually a twisted description. This is the way we work. That is exactly why it takes so long.
Q: Inaudible (Why don’t the people come out?)
A: They are probably afraid. They have gunmen inside, and military outside. They are stuck in the middle. That is the basic reason why the Palestinian terrorists have evacuated themselves to this area: in order to create a sheltered zone for them to operate freely.
Q: Can I get a quick clarification. Were you saying earlier you were allowing ambulances to go into Jenin, but that the Palestinians are refusing? Is that what you said?
A: Yes, and not only ambulances. We offered them assistance to bury their dead, but they actually clashed with us and we found refusal from them. They don’t want any kind of aid, not even humanitarian aid.
A: (translated from Hebrew) We know they have refused aid concerning burial of the bodies of terrorists, for reasons best known to themselves. Our assessment is that, by keeping all the bodies there, they are trying to create the impression that there was a massacre there, and to draw parallels with Sabra and Shatilla.