Jenin: Defiant To The Death

First, Palestinians ambushed and killed 13 Israelis. Then the Israelis leveled the camp. Inside the siege

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The Israelis figured they had an advantage at night. During a week of relentless fighting in the Jenin refugee camp, they had forced the Palestinian militants inside a smaller and smaller perimeter. At about 4 a.m. last Tuesday, 16 reservists of the 5th Infantry Brigade began moving forward again, peering through night-vision goggles as they searched for a house to use as a lookout. The first one they chose proved inadequate, but a second, about 30 yards away, seemed better situated. The soldiers walked into a 3-foot-wide alley next to the house, searching for an entrance. They paused while an officer, Major Oded Golomb, walked ahead to set charges to blow the door open.

The blast they heard next wasn't theirs. "I saw a flash of light that was thrown at us, but it didn't reach us. Immediately after, another flash of light," Sergeant Ron Drori told TIME. "I understood right away it was a bomb." It wasn't a suicide attack, as early reports suggested, but a bomb thrown from a balcony. When the device detonated just feet from the soldiers, Palestinians on the roof opposite opened up with automatic weapons. "It was like a curtain of fire," said Drori. "We couldn't see anything, and all we could hear was the sound of bullets flying and hitting the walls. I started to hear the crying of people who were injured."

During a brief lull, Drori retreated behind a courtyard wall and returned fire until a magazine in his M-203 rifle jammed. He switched to a grenade launcher attached to the rifle. His fire drew an answer, and he was hit in the leg. Of the 16 men in his company, only three escaped being wounded or killed.

The first phase of the fight lasted an hour. It was followed by a bizarre tug-of-war in which the Palestinians tried to drag three Israeli bodies out of the area. They were stopped by an Israeli rescue force. One of the rescuers, Lieut. Eyal Yoel, and another soldier rushed into a house overlooking the ambush to provide covering fire. But as Yoel entered a room, he hit a trip wire. The explosion knocked him unconscious and set him afire. He died before his comrades could reach him. When the shooting finally stopped, 13 Israelis lay dead, including four members of a rescue squad. Ten Palestinians were killed. The distance between opposing forces: 10 yards.

The night before the ambush, soldiers from the 5th Brigade had gathered in a house inside the camp to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. The 28-year-old head of one company, Lieut. Dror Bar, had spoken about the symbolism of the moment. "In Europe, Jews couldn't fight back," he had said. "Today we're being attacked, but we can fight back." The soldiers had lighted candles and read a Psalm. During the next morning's ambush, Dror Bar was killed.

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