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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 17:58 GMT
Child suicide attacks 'must stop'
Palestinian suicide bomber Amer al-Fahr
Amer al-Fahr's mother said he was too young to attack Israel
An international human rights group has called on Palestinian militants to stop using children in suicide bombings and military attacks.

Human Rights Watch made the call after a 16-year-old bomber blew himself up in a Tel Aviv marketplace on Monday, killing three Israeli civilians.

The New York-based group claimed at least 10 bombers aged under 18 have attacked Israel in the past four years.

The group behind Monday's attack has said it does not recruit children.

Palestinian armed groups must clearly and publicly condemn all use of children under the age of 18
Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch
International law defines a child as any person under the age of 18.

"Any attack on civilians is prohibited by international law, but using children for suicide attacks is particularly egregious," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for children's rights at Human Rights Watch.

"Palestinian armed groups must clearly and publicly condemn all use of children under the age of 18 for military activities, and make sure these policies are carried out."

Militants condemned

A senior member of the political wing of the group behind the Tel Aviv attack, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, admitted to the BBC the group had made a mistake by recruiting 16-year-old Amer al-Fahr.

Jan 2002: Safwat Rahman, 17
Mar 2002: Ayat al-Akhras, 17
May 2002: Issa Badir, 17
Jun 2002: Hamza Samudi, 17
Mar 2003: Sabih al-Saoud, 16
Aug 2003: Islam Qteishat, 17
Aug 2003: Khamais Gerwan, 17
January 2004: Iyad al-Masri, 17
Source: Human Rights Watch
The organisation was looking at improving checks on applicants' ages, he added.

The other main Palestinian armed groups have also publicly disavowed the use of children in suicide attacks.

Yet the Human Rights Watch report claimed that the three most active militant groups - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - have all despatched under-age bombers during the four-year-old conflict with Israel.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade has been accused of sending four child bombers into Israel.

Three attacks by 17-year-olds were linked to Islamic Jihad, Human Rights Watch said.

Hamas and the PFLP have been linked to two attacks each, the group added.

Some senior militant figures have said they consider children of 16 as adults, the organisation said.

Israel was also urged to take measures to safeguard the lives of children in the Occupied Territories.

Around one quarter of an estimated 130 Palestinians who died during an Israeli incursion into Gaza last month were children, Human Rights Watch said.

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