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PLA calls for end to child bombings

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority, in a rare admission of failed policy, has condemned the use of children on suicide missions.
A statement carried this week on the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Palestinian leadership had displayed “narrow-minded mistaken thinking” during the present uprising when it had “not opposed the participation of children in the struggle.”
Now that the suicide activities of children had expanded into a phenomenon, it said, “it is time we should strongly object, we have to be courageous enough to admit that sending boys to be slaughtered is an unforgivable mistake and even a crime.”
It added that those who plan and dispatch children on suicide missions should be put on trial.
The declaration, in the form of a sharp comment by WAFA’s political editor, came soon after three youths were fatally shot as they tried to blast their way into a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
There were also reports that in Jenin, boys as young as 10 were used to lure Israeli soldiers into booby-trapped houses and into ambushes, and at least one was reportedly caught with explosive devices strapped to his body.
A 17-year-old girl and an 18-year-old youth, each belonging to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, were given bombs and killed themselves and 16 Israelis in two recent suicide attacks in Jerusalem.
Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip have intercepted about 20 youngsters planning copycat assaults on Israeli settlements since the deaths of three boys Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported yesterday, quoting Amin Hindi, chief of Palestinian General Intelligence.
The WAFA statement said that using children as suicide killers was damaging the Palestinians’ image in the world, and was also unpopular in Palestinian society.
About two-thirds of Palestinians in a recent survey supported suicide bombings against Israelis.
Another survey showed the same proportion of children supported these killings, according to the official Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.
Itamar Marcus, head of the Israeli-based Palestinian Media Watch, called the statement “propaganda for international public consumption.”
He said Palestinian television coverage and recent school textbooks had been used to nurture feelings within children that “martyrdom” and suicide killing were noble and beneficial to the young person’s family and his future in heaven.
“It is impossible to have a society reverse itself in one day,” Mr. Marcus said.
Ghassan Khattab, founder of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, said the statement is significant but not unexpected. “There has been serious debate within Palestinian leadership over children as bombers,” he said. He said that a spokesman for the hard-line Islamic movement Hamas, on Al Jazeera television, had also proposed halting the use of children in such attacks.
As evidence of the level of Palestinian indoctrination of children to undertake suicide missions, Mr. Marcus pointed out that a “martyr’s” poem in praise of suicide killers has been published in the newest Palestinians textbooks for grades five and six, accompanied by a drawing of a dead child being carried aloft by a crowd at a funeral.
“I will take my soul in my hand and toss it into the abyss of death,” said one line, which also was printed on Fatah leaflets handed out in praise of an 18-year-old suicide bomber the day after he had killed nine persons.