- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

NABLUS, West Bank One hundred fifteen unarmed Palestinians younger than 18 were killed by Israeli soldiers in 2002, an increase of more than 50 percent from the previous year, according to an Associated Press count.
The toll underlines the Israeli military's failure to quell riots without killing civilians, particularly minors. Most of the youngsters killed in 2002 were stone-throwers or bystanders hit by Israeli army fire.
Palestinian militants, who target Israeli civilians, killed 36 Israeli minors in bombings and shootings last year.
Saying its soldiers operate in a hostile environment under threat from Palestinian militias, the Israeli government contends that gunmen often take cover behind civilians, and that children and teens are sent to the front lines by adults trying to win the world's sympathy by provoking casualties among the young.
However, Israeli human rights activists say Israeli soldiers often receive vague open-fire orders and are not punished if they overreact. "There is no culture of deliberately shooting children. There is a culture of impunity," said Lior Yavneh of the human rights group B'tselem.
Palestinians charge that the Israeli army does nothing to prevent killings of civilians because it wants to instill fear among Palestinians. "The rate of Palestinian children killed at the hands of Israeli soldiers is alarming and requires immediate international intervention," said Saeb Erekat, a Cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority.
Israel's experience with unrest goes back 15 years, to the first Palestinian uprising against occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was fought largely with stones, bottles and firebombs. In putting down the riots, Israeli soldiers killed hundreds of Palestinians from 1987 to 1993.
In the current fighting, which erupted 27 months ago, Palestinian gunmen have often taken the lead in street clashes while militiamen have carried out dozens of bombings and shooting ambushes, triggering harsher Israeli retaliation and two major military incursions into West Bank towns.
On the Palestinian side, 2,014 persons have died and on the Israeli side, 713 since September 2000. Among them were 275 Palestinian minors and 72 Israeli children, not including Palestinian teenagers involved in bombing or shooting attacks.
Such a violent climate keeps Israeli soldiers, most of them young conscripts rather than seasoned combat veterans, especially edgy, Israeli military experts say.

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