Palestinians 'sent boy on bomb mission'

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The Independent Online

The Israeli army yesterday accused armed militants of trying to blow up an 11-year-old Palestinian boy when he was detained after unwittingly carrying a bomb across a checkpoint in the West Bank.

The Israeli army yesterday accused armed militants of trying to blow up an 11-year-old Palestinian boy when he was detained after unwittingly carrying a bomb across a checkpoint in the West Bank.

The army used the incident, in which a bomb apparently linked to a mobile phone was found in one of two bags carried by Abdullah Quraan at the Hawara checkpoint, outside Nablus, to publicise what they say is the growing use of children by militant factions. The army reconstructed the incident for reporters yesterday.

Israeli helicopters also killed at least two Palestinians, believed to be members of Islamic Jihad, and wounded 14 yesterday during the first of what promises to be a new series of assassination attempts on militant leaders in Gaza.

The raids were ordered as part of an intensive new campaign against armed factions ordered by Ariel Sharon's cabinet in response to the suicide bombs that killed 10 Israelis at Ashdod on Monday.

Abdullah, who is in the sixth grade at a United Nations-run school near his home in the Balata refugee camp, regularly carries baggage owned by local people for up to 20 Israel shekels (£2.50) a day. This practice by children after school is common at checkpoints in the West Bank.

The exact nature of the device - claimed by Israeli sources to contain about 22lbs of explosives - was unclear. But army sources said that a mobile phone in one of the bags rang while soldiers were detaining the boy on Monday, showing that militants were ready to sacrifice the boy in an attempt to kill soldiers.

Abdullah, who insisted he did not believe that there was a bomb in the two bags he had carried, said he had met two men at a checkpoint after racing towards their yellow van in competition with a crowd of other children. He said: "They gave us a small travel bag, a plastic bag, and a bottle of water. They told us that on the other side of the checkpoint, there is a woman waiting. She will be in a Subaru, and she will come and take the stuff from us."

Abdullah said the men told him the bags contained clothes and auto parts. He said they agreed to pay him and a friend 15 shekels (£1.85) to carry the items on a cart. Soldiers opened the bags at the checkpoint, confiscated them and cleared the area. A bomb squad then blew up the bags. The boy said he was interrogated for several hours and released. He told the Associated Press: "These people [the army] are liars, I don't believe them. If it was a bomb, they would not have let me go so easily."

Major Sharon Feingold, an army spokeswoman, said the troops had received intelligence warnings of an attempt to mount an attack from Nablus. She said: "When they [militants] saw that he was caught, they tried to detonate the bomb. It is really disgusting that a boy without his knowledge becomes a guinea pig."

The Israelis blamed the incident on the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's al-Fatah faction.

The group denied it had used the boy and said that only young people sufficiently "mature" were used as couriers.

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