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Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Palestine's lost children
Children in Khan Yunis refugee camp
Palestinian children are living in a battle zone
By Orla Guerin on the West Bank

The death toll in the Palestinian territories and Israel is rising steadily. Many of the dead are Palestinian children.

Palestinians say that in the past week Israeli troops have shot dead four of their children.

One was called Mohanad, meaning sword, and he was 12 years old.

He was killed not in a gun battle, or in the clashes in which so many here die, but at a funeral on Monday.

Mohanad Moharab's father (left)
Mourning families have become a common sight
Palestinians in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza had come out in numbers to bury a policeman killed by Israeli fire. The next day the crowds were back to bury Mohanad Moharab. He too had come to mourn and had lost his own life.

As is customary here, the circumstances were disputed. The Israeli army confirmed that it had fired. But it claimed it was responding to shooting from the Palestinian side, directed towards a Jewish settlement.

The Palestinians said the only fire was a 21-gun salute - a mark of respect for the dead policeman.

Martyr's burial

Whatever the truth, and whoever shot first, mourners had to run for their lives from Israeli fire. One old woman, slowed by her years, screamed aloud in terror as she tried to get away. Children cowered behind walls, their faces frozen in fear.

Mohanad is reported to be the 400th Palestinian killed

At the end of it all Mohanad lay dead - he had been shot in the head.

On Tuesday thousands marched through Gaza's dusty neglected streets for his funeral. He was given a martyr's funeral - his body was wrapped in the Palestinian flag and carried shoulder high.

To Palestinians his killing is further proof of their claim that even their children are targets.

Mohanad is reported to be the 400th Palestinian killed since the start of the current outbreak of violence seven months ago. Among the dead are more than 70 children.

Palestinians throw stones at Israeli soldiers
Israel says Palestinians deliberately put their children at risk
They include 16-year-old Rami Musa. He was killed last week in the Palestinian village of El Khader near Bethlehem.

When we visited the family, his mother, Kawthar was greeting relatives who had come to share her sorrow.

In the kitchen the boy's father, Yahya, showed me the damage caused when Israeli forces shelled the house - shrapnel had come pouring in as the family was eating dinner. Taking his nine-month-old son Amar in his arms, Yahya told me how they had tried to flee. He led me from through the dark hallway and out the front door.

Funeral of Mohanad Moharab
About 70 Palestinian children have already died
"I carried the baby," he said. "And the children were coming behind. Rami was last. He was shot right here on the doorstep."

Yahya pointed to a bullet mark in the iron railings covering the front window. Rami was shot in this spot, and staggered around the back of the house, shouting to his father that he had been hit. He died of his wounds.

An Israeli army position sits on the hill opposite the house - with a clear view of the building and a clear shot. It is a sight the family cannot escape - the first thing they see every time they leave their home.

The Israeli army said it was responding to Palestinian fire on the night Rami was killed - a claim the family strongly denied. In response to questions from the BBC the army insisted it only fired when fired upon. A spokeswoman said the Palestinians themselves were to blame for the large number of children killed.

"They put their own children at risk," she said. "By sending them to the front lines."

But Mohanad Moharab was attending a funeral, and Rami Musa was killed in his own home.

Rami was an A student. Yahya showed me a framed certificate of merit from school, which had been hanging over the teenager's bed.

"We believed he had a bright future," he said, before letting the award fall from his fingers.

Key stories




See also:

25 Apr 01 | Middle East
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