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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
'Baby bomber photo' shocks Israel
Israelis are taking the image at face value
The Israeli army has released a picture it says was found during its incursion in the West Bank town of Hebron showing an infant dressed as a Hamas militant wearing a suicide bomber's harness.

The army says the controversial picture was found in a family album during a search of a house belonging to an alleged Hamas militant.


It is a strange heroism, but at the same time it is part of the distortion that results from ongoing victimisation, incursions, targeting civilians, a whole captive Palestinian population

Hanan Ashrawi
Palestinian legislator
Palestinian children often dress up as militants brandishing toy guns or suicide bombers, but the Hebron "baby bomber" photograph has provoked widespread concern in Israel.

The image is being taken at face value there, although there is no explanation as to why parts of the print appear to have been blacked out.

Our correspondent says there is no way to independently confirm that the picture is authentic.

However, British broadcaster Sky News has reported an unnamed member of the child's family as saying that dressing the infant baby as a bomber was "just a joke".

The Israeli army says it will release the name of the baby's family later on.

'Feeding hatred'

The picture - which the Israeli army says is genuine - shows a boy, about 18 months old, standing wide-eyed in a baby suit.

Red wires are strapped to his waist, which is clad in a pretend explosives belt, and across his head is tied a red bandana of the extremist Islamic group, Hamas.

Palestinian children in fancy dress
The militants are heroes for many Palestinian children
Israeli prime ministerial spokesman David Baker said the picture was symptomatic of what he regarded as anti-Jewish indoctrination.

"What is obvious is that Palestinians are feeding the hatred of Jews and Israelis to their children at the earliest possible age," he said.

Palestinian reaction varied from cynicism to despair.

"This is cheap Israeli propaganda," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. "They are using this photo to justify Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and to go on with their occupation of the Palestinian territories."

But Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi described the photo as a "painful image".

"To me it is a... strange heroism," she told the BBC. "But at the same time it is part of the distortion that results from ongoing victimisation, incursions, targeting civilians, a whole captive Palestinian population."

Lynching

Hamas has been known to organise public rallies in which young children stage mock-ups of famous attacks against Israel.

Recently a group re-enacted the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, in which a small girl had her hands painted red to show the blood of the soldiers.

However, in April the group said children should not sacrifice themselves in real attacks against Israel.

Israeli forces have occupied large parts of all but one of the major Palestinian towns in the West Bank, and the government says they will remain until there is an end to Palestinian suicide bombings which have killed dozens of Israelis in recent weeks.

Some opinion polls conducted in Palestinian areas show a majority of people favour suicide bombings against Israeli civilians as a tactic to liberate land occupied by Israel.

But recently a group of Palestinian intellectuals took out an advertisement in Palestinian newspapers condemning suicide attacks as counter-productive, but their call has been widely ignored.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is accused by Israel of backing suicide bombings, but he has repeatedly condemned attacks inside Israel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Israel is calling this 'terror in nappies'"
The BBC's James Reynolds reports from Jerusalem
"Suicide bombers are seen as heroes by many Palestinians"
Palestinian psychologist Shafiq Masalha
"It's a symptom of the suffering the Palestinians have been going through"

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28 Jun 02 | Middle East
18 Jun 02 | Middle East
18 Jul 01 | Middle East
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
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