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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 11:20 GMT
Children become symbol of struggle
Funeral procession
The funeral procession of 18-year-old Karam Omar Gasan
By BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott

Of all the horror that has been witnessed over more than 50 years of struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most emotive images is that of children dying in the streets.

It is one that has galvanised Arab anger and prompted international criticism that Israel is using excessive force to contain the unrest.

Some 70 of the more than 200 Palestinians killed in the uprising have been children - each one described as a martyr by the Palestinians.

From womb to tomb we are condemned to sub-human conditions

PLO representative Afif Safieh
They accuse the Israelis of targeting their children, while the Israelis say Palestinian leaders deliberately put children's lives in danger by sending them to the front line.

The image of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durrah's last minutes before being shot by an Israeli soldier, appears to have struck the sharpest chord.

Fanning the flames

Television footage of his death was beamed into homes, where parents could immediately understand the terror of a father trying to protect his child.

The funeral of Sami Abu Jazer
Sami Abu Jazer, 9, was one of the youngest to die
These minutes on camera transformed the boy's death into a symbol of the Palestinian struggle, inflaming passions and prompting still more Palestinians - including children - to take to the barricades.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Cabinet Minister who was involved in the beginning of the peace process, said Mohammed's death caused a real loss of control.

'Cynical use of lives'

But Israel says it is the Palestinians' fault that so many children - one as young as nine - are dying. They accuse them of sending them to dangerous areas in an attempt to garner international sympathy if they are injured or killed.

To pay someone money to become a shaheed (martyr) is a very dangerous attitude

Colonel Noam Tiben

"No one should be so naive to believe that something like this happens only because innocent children were moving to school and something terrible happened to them on the way," Major General Giora Eiland of the Israeli Defence Force told the BBC.

"It is a brutal and cynical way of using their image - and the more casualties you have, the more you are right."

Cash payments

But Afif Safieh, representative for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in London, angrily rejected the allegations. He says the crisis stems from years of frustration and humiliation that the Palestinians have endured in their dealings with Israel.

And he says it is the children's struggle too.

"It was a spontaneous uprising," he told BBC News Online. "The overwhelming feeling is that life for Palestinians as it is, is intolerable."

"From womb to tomb, we are condemned to sub-human living conditions."

He dismissed Israel's explanation that a number of youngsters had been caught in cross-fire, arguing that wounds to the upper part of the body indicated that they had been deliberately targeted.

Dr Munzer Sharif, Palestinian Deputy Minister of Health, concurs: "They're being shot by the Israelis because they've got live bullets in their heads and in their chest, or even in the upper limbs," he told the BBC.

The deaths have become part of a larger debate about whether the riots were a spontaneous outburst - like the previous intifada which erupted in a Palestinian refugee camp in 1987 - or anger orchestrated by Yasser Arafat.

Payments of up to 1,200 made to families of the dead have sparked allegations from Israel that youngsters are being lured to the front line.

Palestinians enraged
Palestinians enraged at the death of 17-year-old Sami Hasan Balawni
Referring to the payments, the Israeli commander of the West Bank's Hebron region, Colonel Noam Tiben said they were part of a campaign to "warm up the clashes".

"To pay someone money to become a shaheed (martyr) is a very dangerous attitude," he said.

Children in particular, it was charged, were lured with Nike trainers and small sums of money.

The Palestinian Authority says compensation payments to families which have lost loved ones in the struggle against Israel are nothing new and are certainly not an incentive for children to risk their lives.

Children of the stones

Many of the adults at the front line of the present Palestinian unrest were "the children of the stones" during the original intifada.

Now there is the possibility of a new intifada generation - the children whose heroes are the youths that took part in the previous uprising and they hope to emulate.

During the seven years since the peace process began, many aid agencies and governments sponsored so-called bridge- building projects between children in attempt to stop such a thing happening.

But now diplomats say the clock has been turned back. One lamented that a new intifada had been borne and even if war was averted, the process would have to begin again.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Middle East
Clashes claim Palestinian lives
16 Oct 00 | Middle East
The price of failure
14 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Only pain uniting the divided
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