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Attacks by Youngsters Renews Fears in Mideast

GAZA - An assault by two Palestinian youths on the Jewish settlement of Netzarim Sunday night and a similar attack by three youths on the Elei Sinai settlement on New Year’s Day are raising fears on both sides that a new wave of suicidal attacks by young Palestinians is building in the volatile Gaza Strip.
In both cases, the boys, armed with knives, entered well-guarded settlements and were stopped before they could cause serious injury. Those who attacked Netzarim were wounded and are now in Israeli custody; those who attacked Elei Sinai were killed. One of the boys involved in the Netzarim attack, Ahmed Hanajereh, 13, is believed to be the youngest child yet to participate in such an assault. He was captured while having a drink of water at a home in the settlement, where he sought refuge by posing as a Thai laborer after his brother, Mohammed, 16, was wounded.
The Palestinian Authority has been making a supreme effort to convince their own children that there is no greater achievement than to die for Allah in battle,” said Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli organization that released an extensive report last weekend on Palestinian Authority television programs that incite hatred and violence against Jews.
The report includes film clips in which Palestinian children tell their peers that every Palestinian child longs for martyrdom, religious leader Mohammed Ibrahim Madi encourages youths to blow up Jews in the Holy Land wherever they find them, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat praises children's sacrifice of their lives.
“The child who is grasping the stone, facing the tank - is it not the greatest message to the world when that hero becomes a shahid?” Arafat said in his New Year’s message last year, alluding to one who has died a martyr.
Fadel Abu Heen, head of the Community Training and Crisis Management Center in Gaza, who has conducted large-scale studies on children’s attitudes toward martyrdom for the past two years, said the percentage of young Palestinians who want to be martyrs rose from 71 percent in 2001 to 79 percent last year.
Abu Heen’s studies examined 34 factors influencing children’s willingness to die and found that glorification of martyrdom in the media was the largest single factor, followed by nationalist patriotic feelings, poor family relations, and religion.
Israeli analysts and intelligence officers said there is sharp disagreement among the Palestinians about the morality of suicide missions generally and about involvement of children in particular. But they add that those Palestinians who oppose such activities - senior statesman Abu Mazen, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, and Minister of Culture Yasser Abed Rabbo among them - wield little influence with the public.
“We are facing a new society among the Palestinians,” said Lieutenant Colonel Yoni Dahoah Halevy, a veteran Israeli military man who had participated in the administration of the occupied territories and in negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad, and other groups “say that in sending our sons to suicide attacks, we are not creating death, that it is an act of hope that creates new life,” Halevy said.
These factions, he said, have persuaded a huge percentage of Palestinian children that “the suicide bomber does not die - he begins a new life.”

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