Arafat urged to take children off front line
By Tom Gross in Jerusalem
PALESTINIAN parents, tired of seeing their sons
and daughters killed and injured in clashes with Israeli troops, are becoming ever more vocal in denouncing their leadership for putting children in the line of fire.
In a bold move, a branch of the Palestinian Women's Union in the West Bank town of Tulkarm wrote to Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, saying: "Our children are being sent into the streets to face heavily armed Israeli soldiers. We urge you to issue instructions to your police force to stop sending innocent children to their death."
Israeli officials have repeatedly accused the Palestinian leadership of using children cynically to gain propaganda points in Western and Arab media. They have alleged that Fatah militiamen collect children from their homes and outside schools and take them by bus to isolated Israeli guard posts, where they are provided with stones and petrol bombs to throw at Israeli troops.
They say Palestinian militiamen then stand behind the children and fire live ammunition on the Israelis, who sometimes hit the children when they return fire.
About 40 Palestinian children have died since the present round of violence began in late September. A number of Israeli children have been severely maimed, while the Israeli army has come in for sharp criticism from their country's human rights groups and the international community for failing to develop non-lethal methods of crowd control.
The "Tulkarm letter" would seem to confirm Israeli accusations of cynicism. In those parts of Gaza and the West Bank under Palestinian control few dare criticise this apparent exploitation of children; those who do have been threatened by Mr Arafat's security forces.
A nurse from Gaza who spoke out on television against sending children to the flashpoints was condemned in Palestinian media as a traitor. Other parents in the West Bank say that they have been threatened by Fatah officials for discouraging their children from participating in clashes.
A recent leader in the Palestinian Authority's official newspaper, Al Hayat al-Jadida, branded parents who refused to send their children to participate in the "armed struggle" a "fifth column in Palestinian society".