'Stoning to Death' of Israeli Youths Fuels Tension

The bodies of two Israeli teenagers killed in what Israeli police called a "stoning to death" incident were found in a cave in the West Bank today, the latest in a bloody cycle of violence that has engulfed the region.

Two 14-year-old residents of a Jewish settlement near Bethlehem who had been reported missing since Tuesday, were stoned to death by Palestinian militia, said Israeli government spokesman Raffia Yaffe today.

The bodies of the boys, who were identified as Yossi Ishran and Kobi Mandel — the latter a recent immigrant from the United States — were discovered at dawn in a dried riverbed cave.

Calling the incident "horrifying," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today said the killing amounted to "another escalation in the terrorist activities and violence carried out by the Palestinians against an innocent civilian population."

The Blame Game

In a statement released to the press today, Sharon blamed the Palestinian Authority for the killings. But while expressing regret for the loss of life, a Palestinian official today said he had no idea who was responsible for the attack.

Speaking at a press briefing in the West Bank today, Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat rejected what he called a "policy of finger pointing by the Israeli government."

The two Israeli teenagers were the latest victims in more than seven months of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has claimed the lives of 143 Palestinians under the age of 18.

The youngest victim, 4-month-old Iman Hiju, died in her mother's arms early Monday after Israeli tanks shelled their home in Gaza.

Early this week, Sharon apologized for the infant's death and said his soldiers did not intend to kill her.

Sharon today blamed the Palestinian media for inciting violence against Israelis. Israel has long accused Palestinian television of encouraging young Palestinians to violence by broadcasting music videos filled with images of children throwing stones.

The latest cycle of violence comes as the Middle East peace process lies in tatters as Israel continues to ask for a cessation of violence before talks resume and the Palestinians call for an end to the construction of settlements on Arab land captured by Israel in 1967 war.

Since September, the fighting has claimed 437 lives on the Palestinian side and 73 on the Israeli side.

ABCNEWS' Gillian Findley in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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