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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Viewpoint: Death of a stonethrower
A Palestinian funeral
Palestinians see their dead as martyrs to the cause
Attack and counter-attack have become the norm since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September. Paul Wood in Jerusalem has been to hear from both sides of the conflict on whether there is an end in sight.

After joining the ritual stone-throwing against Israeli soldiers, 15-year-old Saber Berash would go to his aunt's house to wash, so his parents would not know he had disobeyed them by joining the intifada.

His father had even administered a beating to drive the message home. His parents thought he was safe.

Then one day Saber did not return: his stone had been answered with a bullet. That is how his family say he died.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat has the backing of the Arab League
His mother, Samira Berash, 45, tells the story in the family home in a West Bank refugee camp.

Although she did not want him to join the intifada, her home is adorned with propaganda posters celebrating what she calls her son's martyrdom.

"One day I saw my relatives and I felt that something was wrong," she said, recounting what happened on the day her son died.

"My brother told me: 'God has chosen one of your sons to be a martyr'," she says, remembering how she was struck dumb by the shock for half an hour.

"I started saying verses from the Koran to myself. The first thing I said was: 'Thank God he has been chosen for this honour'."

Funerals

Saber became one of almost 500 Palestinians who have been killed during the uprising.

Most of the fire-power is on the Israeli side and most of the casualties on the Palestinian.

Angry funerals take place every day in the West Bank and Gaza.


What hurts me is that he is a little child and he died in vain - he did not do much with a stone

Samira Berash
Samira says her son was a quiet boy who will be missed by his six brothers and one sister.

She is bitter about his death.

"He was just a little kid and they shot at him with heavy calibre bullets - the bullet went through his chest and out of his back," says Samira.

"What hurts me is that he is a little child and he died in vain - he did not do much with a stone."

Political gain

The Israelis say they are responding to Palestinian attacks, including suicide bombings, which target civilians.

They also say that the Palestinian leadership is cynically using children in the front line, knowing that civilians casualties will gain international sympathy for their cause.


We have to prevent Arafat from gaining any political fruits - otherwise he won't put an end to the violence

Israeli minister Danny Naveh
But the United Nations Secretary-General, among others, accused the Israelis of using disproportionate force when they sent the F16s screaming over the West Bank and Gaza last Friday.

Critics say air-power is of little use in stopping suicide bombers and has proved a diplomatic disaster for Israel.

Israeli cabinet minister Danny Naveh maintains that the future use of F16s has not been ruled out, because Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect the security of its citizens.

He told the BBC that the Palestinian Authority could not be allowed to see any linkage between the intifada and political gains in what remained of the peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon has not ruled out a repeat of Friday's bombing
"Arafat failed to come to the conclusion they cannot gain anything through violence," said Mr Naveh. "We will do whatever we can in order to put an end to the violence and terrorism attacks and to resume the peace negotiations.

"In order to do that, unfortunately we have to put some more military and security pressure on the terrorist infrastructure, but, on the other hand, we have to prevent Arafat from gaining any political fruits - otherwise he won't put an end to the violence."

Israeli officials say that civilian casualties are accidental and not the aim of operations directed against what they describe as terrorist targets.

They contrast this with the actions of Hamas suicide bombers, who, they say, deliberately target civilians.

Stalemate

The Palestinians say they are fighting an Israeli occupation and will not enter negotiations until Israeli forces pull back.

As the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qureia, points out, they now have the full backing of the Arab League in holding out for concessions before any talks take place.

"We have sent the strong message that as long as the Israelis continue their aggression, there will be no partner for Israel," he said.

"They will have no-one to talk to."

This is not yet what Yasser Arafat calls the decisive battle for Palestine.

But neither side appears capable of the political sacrifice a ceasefire would entail.


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