Second boy is shot dead as the politicians talk

Middle East: In the place now known as Martyr's Corner, angry crowds step up rioting while Israeli gunships unleash attack after attack
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The Independent Online

The bleeding corpse of yet another boy was being borne away from the streets of the Gaza Strip yesterday as diplomatic efforts continued in Paris to end the violence convulsing the Middle East.

The bleeding corpse of yet another boy was being borne away from the streets of the Gaza Strip yesterday as diplomatic efforts continued in Paris to end the violence convulsing the Middle East.

Mohammed Yousif Abu Aasi, 13, died from a bullet through the chest just hours after the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, made another demand for Yasser Arafat to end the violence, only to find his own army being accused again of excessive use of force.

Mohammed, from a village in southern Gaza, was shot at Netzarim Junction, only yards from the spot where French television caught the final moments of another boy, Mohammed al-Durah, 12, who was shot dead huddling at his father's side on Sunday.

Israel's deputy chief of staff, Major-General Moshe Yaalon, said the Israel defence forces are "using live fire only if fired upon in a life-threatening manner". This cannot be true.

At least one Israeli sniper was at work at the scene of Mohammed's death. When The Independent visited the flashpoint, there was no sound of anyone returning fire.

Netzarim Junction is at the point where Palestinian-controlled territory ("Area A" as it is known in the 1993 Osloaccord), meets an Israelicontrolled road, which leads to a Jewish settlement and conveniently dissects this tiny oblong of overcrowded land along the Mediterranean coast. The Israeli army has an outpost at the crossroads but it is heavily fortified and is more like a bunker than a base.

Fed up with the failure of the"peace process", the Gazans clearly want to force the Israelis out of their stifled patch of land, securing a victory that they will compare with that of Hizbollah's success in getting Israel out of south Lebanon.

The place has come under intense attack for nearly a week, not only from Palestinian youths throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs, but from Palestinian security men firing their automatic weapons, often wildly.

But to threaten the lives of those soldiers within requires heavy weapons. The sort of weapons, in fact, that Israel is using, wholly without regard to the risk to the children who are drawn to this spot.

For the third consecutive day, an Israeli Cobra helicopter gunship fired rockets into the surrounding area yesterday. On Tuesday, a Cobra blasted an enormous hole in the side of an apartment building that overlooks the Israeli base.

Mohammed Abu Aasi will become another martyr, whether he was hit by a stray Palestinian bullet or shot by the Israelis. Within minutes of his death, workers in the morgue were displaying his punctured body - with its gaping wound though the back - to journalists. He will be chalked up here as a further victim of brutal tactics that are intended by Mr Barak, a former general, to send a message to the Palestinians of the terrible consequences of continuing to fight, but which have been having the opposite effect.

You only have to look at Netzarim Junction to see that. The place is now known as Martyr's Corner and is attracting more and more people every day to what has become a macabre circus. Stallholders have even set up on the spot, selling iced lollies as the bullets whizz past.

The stronger the emotion on the streets, the more precarious the position of Mr Arafat, the Palestinian leader. And that is the contradiction inherent in Israel's conduct. Mr Barak said that he would not negotiate with the Palestinian leader until he ended the violence. But Israel's army daily makes that more difficult.

Mr Arafat cannot now stop the violence outright and he is probably too politically canny to want to try. His huge security structure is littered with men who are as steeped in anger at the Israelis as the stone-throwing youths. Their attempts to restrain the crowds have been half-hearted and ineffectual.

The Israeli military has blamed the violence on Tanzim, the youth movement of Fatah. But Gaza is rife with cynicism and despair over the lack of results from the Oslo accord. All the parties - including the Palestinian Authority - have misjudged the depth of feeling. This was succinctly summed up by Jihad al-Wazir, the son of Abu Jihad, the highly influential founder of the PLO's Fatah who was killed in Tunis in 1988 by an Israeli hit squad co-ordinated by Mr Barak. "They saw [the people's] silence as acquiescence and not the eye of the storm. Today we are seeing the beginning of the storm. This ushers in the end of the Oslo cycle."