The scene at the suddenly ghostly Shatila camp when foreign observers finally entered it this morning was a nightmare straight out of Dante. Women wailed over the deaths of neighbors and loved ones, bodies began to swell under the hot Levantine sun and the streets were littered with thousands of spent cartridges.
A woman's high-heeled shoe and a baby's toy car lay amid the rubble.
Gone were the Christian militiamen, who had withdrawn sometime after 8 a.m., at least 12 hours after the killing began. This correspondent counted 46 bodies before becoming ill; other reporters counted more than a hundred.
How many were killed may never be known. There may have been hundreds, if not thousands more who died or have since disappeared, led away early this morning by Lebanese Christian militiamen, wearing Israeli-issued uniforms and carrying Israeli-made submachine guns.
Only the signs of the slaughter in the camp remained for returning relatives and foreign observers, both diplomats and from the press, to bear witness to the horror.
Houses had been dynamited and bulldozed into rubble, often with their inhabitants still inside. Groups of bodies lay like mannequins dropped from the sky before bullet-pocked walls where they appeared to have been executed. Others were draped in alleys and streets, apparently shot as they tried to escape.
In one modest garden, two matronly women lay like limp sacks of grain on a mound of rubble out of which a baby's head poked, its open eyes glazed in death. Next to them, a baby in diapers, perhaps less than a year old, lay face down, its head blown apart.
Around the corner, in another alley, two young girls, one maybe 11, the other not more than a year older, lay on their backs, legs spread apart on the ground, each with a bullet hole in the side of the head. Twenty feet farther along, eight men had been machine-gunned against a cinderblock house bearing the red painted numbers 424 and 422 in Arabic script.
Each little dirt alley through the deserted buildings, where Palestinians have lived since fleeing Palestine when Israel was created in 1948, told its own horror story.
In one, 16 men lay piled on top of each other, frozen into grotesque, contorted positions. Nearby, in a small, simple concrete patio, a lone woman about 40 years old, wearing a gingham dress and with her head in a scarf, lay flat on her back staring at the blue sky overhead. There was a bullet hole in her chest, exactly between the swell of her breasts.
Farther up the main street of the camp that leads toward the Palestinian shantytown of Sabra, other bodies lay twisted amid the rubble of buildings bulldozed out of the way. Next to a small shop, the body of 70-year-old Abu Diab Derani was crumpled against a wall, his head buried in the dirt, a hand outstretched in a surreal pose toward a lone woman's shoe in the dirt. He had been shot at close range in the temple.
"Why, why did they kill him?" wailed a 60-year-old woman, his neighbor, who said she fled the neighborhood when she heard the shooting moving up the road Friday night. "He did nothing to anyone; he was gentle and kind."
A block away, another old man with a white, scraggly beard lay in blue-and-white striped pajamas, flat on his back. Half his head had been sliced away by a bullet, or a sharp, blunt instrument. He was Hada Nouri, a 90-year-old great-grandfather. Another dead man lay neaby.
By the southern entrance of the camp, a whole neighborhood had been bulldozed, and a vast pit about 30 feet in diameter had been excavated, then filled with fresh dirt and rubbled mortar. It then was run over by bulldozer tracks to pack the pit in. Such earthworks, apparently done early this morning before the militia withdrew, may be a mass grave, but this will not be clear until someone digs through it.
Nearby, half a building had been sheared away by one of the bulldozers the militiamen brought into the camp when they began to move through it Friday. A man hung limply from a window that had not collapsed yet. About 10 feet away, in the rubble of another cinderblock house, were the carcasses of three gray work horses, one with its entrails bloated and inflated by the sun. The sudden baaing of a sheep, somehow left alive in the midst of so much death, was eerie and unsettling.