Thursday, 10 May 2001

Young victims fall in Israel

With killing of two teens, rage escalates in the Middle East

By Matthew Kalman

May 10, 2001 Page 1A

TEKOA, Israel -- The discovery Wednesday of the mutilated bodies of two teenage boys, one an American, in a cave near a West Bank settlement increased outrage over violence here that continues to claim child victims.

Koby Mandell, 13, and Yosef Ishran, 14, had been bound, stabbed and beaten to death with rocks, police said. The walls of the cave in the Judean Desert were covered with the boys' blood, reportedly smeared there by the killers.

Koby immigrated to Israel with his family from College Park, Md., in 1996. They moved into the Tekoa settlement two years ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Yasser Arafat for the killings. He said the Palestinian leader was doing nothing to stop attacks on Israelis.

Violence in the region exploded in September after Sharon visited a site holy to Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. The unrest has claimed more than 500 lives.

Asked about the slaying of the teens, Arafat responded that Palestinian children have been victimized by Israel. He cited a 3-month-old Palestinian girl, Reema Ahmed, who was wounded Wednesday during an Israeli shooting attack on a Gaza refugee camp. The youngest victim of the recent violence -- Iman Hijo, a 4-month-old Palestinian girl -- was buried Tuesday.

Early today, violence in the region flared again as at least seven people were wounded -- six Palestinians and one Israeli soldier -- in a gunbattle when Israeli soldiers bulldozed Palestinian buildings in another refugee camp in Gaza.

The future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is a key issue standing in the way of a Mideast peace accord. About 200,000 Jewish settlers and 3 million Palestinians live in the Palestinian territories. Sharon has vowed to continue to build settlements, further angering Palestinians.

The deaths of children have enraged both sides and possibly jeopardized efforts to renew the peace process.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the killings of the Israeli boys ''horrible, brutal.'' U.S. lawmakers called on the White House to appoint a special Middle East envoy. ''The situation is sufficiently serious that there ought to be a special representative appointed,'' Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said.

Pope John Paul II, speaking in Malta, said he was saddened by ''news from the Holy Land of terrible violence even against innocent young people.''

Israeli police said Koby and Yosef may have been killed in a chance encounter with Palestinians. The boys were reported missing late Tuesday after skipping school to go hiking.

''We began looking in Tekoa valley,'' said Meir Ben-Hayoun, a neighbor of one of the boys. ''And at 7 this morning we found their bodies, beaten, mutilated and stabbed.''

Thousands of people attended the funerals Wednesday. Classmates hugged and wept.

A handwritten sign called on God to ''avenge their blood'' and asked settlers to meet at the murder site tonight to light bonfires. ''We will not forget or forgive,'' the sign said.

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