- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

BUREIJ REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip He died huddled in his father's arms, caught in a hail of bullets and captured in the viewfinder of a television camera in a shocking scene viewed all over the world.

Twelve-year-old Mohammed Aldura shot as his desperate father tried to shield him after they blundered into the middle of a fierce Israeli-Palestinian clash outside a small Jewish settlement was mourned yesterday in the teeming refugee camp where he spent his short life.

The death reignited a bitter and long-running debate over who bears responsibility when Palestinian children are killed or injured in street clashes the Israeli soldiers who shoot them, or the Palestinian adults who allow or even encourage them to take part in the violence.

In Mohammed's death, it was not entirely clear who fired the fatal shots, though Palestinians blamed the Israelis.

"I was always afraid something like this would happen to him," said Mohammed's 30-year-old mother, Amal, sitting dry-eyed and swathed in black at the family's home, which was filled with friends and relatives who spilled over into the mourning tent outside. "To those who did it, I say, I wish you may burn."

Amid a welter of brutal scenes from street battles that have swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip since Thursday, the boy's death was a singularly horrific one.

Television footage shot by French TV during Saturday's pitched battle outside the heavily guarded Gaza settlement of Netzarim showed Mohammed clinging to his father, Jamal, and screaming in terror as a sustained burst of gunfire raked a concrete wall behind them.

As the two huddled behind a tiny abutment, the father vainly stretched a protective arm in front of his son.

Most stations that aired the footage cut away before the stricken boy could be seen slumping over, losing his grip on the father, who himself twitched convulsively as he was struck by round after round.

In this latest spasm of violence just as in the days of the Palestinian uprising, or intefadeh Palestinian children are often found on the front lines of deadly cat-and-mouse clashes between demonstrators and Israeli troops. Confrontations that begin with stones and rubber-coated steel pellets often escalate into furious exchanges of live fire.

Israel's police minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, blamed Palestinians for putting children in harm's way.

"When the Palestinians deliberately bring a lot of civilians, some of them young people, to demonstrate and not to demonstrate silently, but to throw stones, and not only stones but firebombs, and use live fire as well in such situations, the only thing you can do in order to protect your life is to retaliate," said Mr. Ben-Ami, who is also the acting foreign minister. "We tried to use direct weapons only when it was really needed, in order to protect life."

The slain boy's relatives freely acknowledged that he often joined other children from the camp in throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. His nickname was Mitwali a slang word for little troublemaker, or scamp.

On Saturday, with daily clashes intensifying, his mother lured him away from the ranks of young stone-throwers by telling him to accompany his father, who was shopping for a used car.

"He loved going out on errands with his father, spending time with him, so he obeyed," she said.

Returning home on foot, the two found themselves caught between a stone- and firebomb-throwing Palestinian mob perhaps including some gunmen and Israeli troops who were firing live bullets in the demonstrators' direction.

Yesterday, Jamal Aldura, a 37-year-old laborer, remained in a Gaza hospital recovering from bullet wounds to both legs, one arm and his midsection.

Swathed in bloody bandages, barely able to keep his eyes open, he recounted from his hospital cot how he tried to shield his son from the hail of bullets he said were fired by Israeli troops.

"I tried to tell them, 'Stop, stop, he's my son, he's a child,' but nobody heard me, and they didn't listen to me," he said in a slurred, weak voice. "Those moments were like a lifetime."

When Mohammed's mother saw the footage, which aired repeatedly on Palestinian television, she already knew her son was dead and her husband badly wounded. But she could hardly believe the cringing, cowering boy she saw on the screen was the spirited, mischievous child she knew.

"I saw him, but I didn't know him," she said.

Although the two appeared to be in the line of fire from the Israeli troops' position, Israeli Cabinet Secretary Yitzhak Herzog said last night it still wasn't known who fired the fatal shots.

The army said in a statement that it would look into the incident. While it expressed regret for the loss of life, it accused Palestinians of "making cynical use of children and women by bringing them to flash points."

Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia furiously denounced Israel for what he called a cold-blooded killing.

"I think that pictures seen worldwide of a boy killed by the Israelis whose father was trying to protect him is clear evidence of who's responsible for the escalation of the situation," he said. "This is the ugliest thing a human can see in this world."

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