Peres Fears Palestinians Will Distort Jenin Battle

JERUSALEM - Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on Tuesday he feared Palestinian officials would distort the battle between IDF soldiers and gunmen in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin in order to portray it as a "massacre."

Thirteen IDF soldiers were killed in a series of explosions in the Jenin refugee camp on Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of soldiers killed in the refugee camp since the start of the offensive to 22.

Troops faced fierce resistance on Tuesday from Palestinian militants holed up in a small pocket in the Jenin refugee camp.

"The Foreign Minister expressed his concern that Palestinian propaganda is liable to accuse Israel that a 'massacre' took place in Jenin rather than a pitched battle against heavily armed terrorists," Peres said in a statement.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo denied Peres's charge and accused him of "trying to present the victim as a savage, and to present the murderer and the criminal as a human being."

Palestinian officials estimate at least 100 Palestinians have been killed during a week of fighting in Jenin, in which Israeli helicopters have fired missiles into the crowded camp as part of an effort to root out militants.

The Palestinian Authority has compared the casualties in Jenin to the massacre by Israeli-allied Lebanese Christian militia of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps near Beirut during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Israeli officials say militants in Jenin have waged a fierce battle with guns and explosives rather than surrender to troops who have pledged not to harm them if they lay down their arms.

Deputy Defence Minister, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, said Palestinians have refused Israeli offers to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into the camp to remove the corpses for burial. She said Israel had also offered to evacuate the bodies.

Witnesses said they saw bodies still lying in the streets of the camp on Monday.

"When the other side refuses to remove bodies it must be clear to the whole world that the Palestinians are trying to increase the drama so the world continues demonstrating support for them," Pelossof told Israel Radio.

Palestinian medics say only a handful of their ambulances from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have been allowed into the camp to evacuate the wounded.

The IDF has said it can allow entry to the conflict zone only when there is a lull in fighting and searches ambulances which it fears may be used to carry Palestinian gunmen or weapons.