A bullet-riddled blue bathtub lay outside the demolished house of Hasna Murra in the Burj al Barajinah Palestinian camp today.
Murra, a tall, erect woman with severe, piercing eyes, told the first group of reporters allowed to visit the camp since the fighting that almost destroyed it began May 20, that her nephew, Nidhal Murra, was killed right on the spot where she was standing.
"I myself have lost two sons in battle, and I am ready to give two more for Palestine," she said, as she walked away with her belongings in a bundle on top of her head.
Burj al Barajinah and two other large Palestinian camps in Beirut have been battlegrounds for the past month as the Shiite militia Amal has sought to block any resurgence of the Palestinians in Lebanon as an armed force. Until today's trip, arranged after a truce was declared June 18, reporters have had no access to the areas hit by the fighting.
Reporters were able on Wednesday to interview some of the 45 wounded survivors of the fighting who were evacuated from Burj al Barajinah by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The on-site viewing today provided visual confirmation of the scale and intensity of the fighting at this one camp as described earlier by some of the survivors.
A young Palestinian who used the name Musa led reporters to the commercial center of the camp, which was almost entirely destroyed, including the cooperative where residents shopped, the Samed factory where hundreds had worked producing sweets, clothing and textiles, and much of the mosque and the only hospital. The alleys in the interior of the camp were blocked with fallen pillars, bricks and metal rods.
Musa said 85 Palestinians had died in Burj al Barajinah and at least 400 were wounded. The dead were buried in mass graves at three different locations. At one grave, he said, a whole family was buried. The five children of the Samrawi family died instantly on June 8, when a tank shell hit their home.
Residents of the camp said most of the victims were killed in combat or by shells, and there were no reports of massacres of unarmed people as have been reported in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. Amal fighters, who had besieged and shelled all three camps, did not enter Burj al Barajinah as they did the other two.
According to information pieced together from Palestinian sources and witnesses who are reluctant to be identified, as the fighting grew more severe Shiite forces unleashed a kind of uncontrolled and blind retaliation against Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. Discussions with residents of those two camps, however, indicated that the reprisals were not as widespread and systematic as massacres in the same camps in September of 1982 by Christian militiamen let into the camps by occupying Israeli forces.
A Palestinian reported witnessing Shiite forces taking about a dozen patients from their beds in Gaza Hospital in Sabra late last month, stripping off their bandages and telling them to run toward a ditch. They were then shot in the back, the witness said.
The killings apparently were in retaliation for the killing of six wounded Amal militiamen in a west Beirut hospital.
One Palestinian spokesman, Abu Mujahed, said he saw Amal fighters line up six Palestinian males against the wall of the Dana mosque in Sabra and shoot them down. He said a neighbor saw a heap of 12 bodies of people who appeared to have been shot beside a wall.
It has not yet been possible for reporters to investigate thoroughly the recent reports of massacres in Sabra and Shatila.
Frightened by the fighting and reports of massacres, refugees were streaming out of the rubble-covered camp to join relatives in Rashidiye near Tyre in southern Lebanon.
But for the young men who stayed behind in the ruins there was a story that still needed to be told.
Leading reporters through narrow passages choked with debris, shredded cloth and the remains of what once were modest flat-roofed cement houses, Musa took us to a display of shells and mortars that children had collected after the fighting was over arranged neatly on three tables. Cardboard posters hanging over the exhibition said: "Happy surprise: The children of the camps of Beirut invite you to look at the presents and toys Mr. Berri sent them for the month of Ramadan."
Nearby, Palestinian women balancing empty containers on their heads pushed, shoved and screamed as they waited for rations of flour. For the first time since the truce was announced, a convoy of food and water supplies entered the camp yesterday. Camp residents had set fire to fly-covered mounds of garbage that had accumulated during the month of fighting.
The young men of the camp, some with pistols stuck in the backs of their trousers, insisted there were no heavy weapons inside the camps.
"Our heavy weapons come from the mountains," said one named Adel. Palestinian gunners, followers of dissident Fatah leader Abu Musa, used rocket launchers and Grad missiles against Shiite neighborhoods and Amal positions to loosen the grip around the camps.
A man came and dragged reporters to a house where a hole in the roof let in a ray of sunshine. His wife, Hiyam Abdullah Ali, her face contorted with anguish, pointed to the blood-spattered wall where their 16-year-old daughter was killed by a shell, and wished Shiite leader Nabih Berria long life -- so he may grieve for his dead children.
"May God burn his heart over his children," she screamed hysterically "I hope he lives long enough to mourn them and survive without limbs."
Earlier, a young Palestinian fighter, Mahmoud Ismail, had rushed up to display what looked like plastic-wrapped sausages. He explained that they were locally made bombs put together with dynamite, pins, unexploded shells and chemicals.
"We would use these against fish in the sea and now we use them against the enemy," he said grinning. Although it is forbidden here, fishermen often use dynamite to increase their catch.
At the Haifa hospital, which had provided shelter for hundreds of women and children with one doctor tending to about 200 wounded crammed into its wards, all the glass window panes were smashed and outside walls were speckled with bullet holes. Water dripped from a rusty pipe and camp residents placed plastic pails underneath to save the precious liquid.
"Israel didn't even do this to us," a bystander said.
The muezzin's voice rose for noontime prayers from the mosque in the heart of the camp. Shells had knocked all the stonework from the minaret. The mosque had provided shelter for hundreds of civilians who had not managed to make it into caves underneath the camps.
An old woman sitting on a brick in the shade of a little shack looked sullenly ahead of her as a group of children played noisily between the houses. A large gaping hole exposed a family huddled on the floor. Their refrigerator lay on one side, one wall between two rooms had collapsed, but a curtain was still hanging.
Graffiti scribbled on the outside wall of the camp, which one resident claimed had protected the wall from shelling, said: "We will make the rock understand, if humans do not, that if a people rise up they will be victorious even if their revolutionaries and leaders have been defeated."