April 25, 2002 -- The militant Hamas made an unusualappeal to Palestinian teenagers in Gaza not to try to infiltrateJewish settlements, after three youths were killed by Israelisoldiers in a failed attempt.
The Islamic resistance movement issued a statement Wednesday urging Palestinian youngsters to "remember that their lives areprecious and should not be sacrificed."
Late Tuesday, Israeli soldiers discovered three Palestinianstrying to infiltrate the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in centralGaza and shot them dead, the military said. Palestinians said theywere boys — two 14-year-olds and a 13-year-old.
Hamas has claimed responsibility for many of the dozens ofsuicide bombing attacks carried out in Israel, the West Bank andGaza Strip during nearly 19 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.Most of the bombers were men in their early 20s.
The statement, signed by Ismail Hanyea, spokesman for Hamasspiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said, "We have called on theteachers and religious leaders to spread the message of restraintamong young boys."
Hamas described theactions of the schoolboys as a "national catastrophe."
There have been almost nightly attempts by Palestinians toinfiltrate Jewish settlements in Gaza over the past two weeks. OnMarch 29, a Palestinian entered Netzarim and stabbed two Israelisto death.
During Israel's large-scale military operation in the West Bank,which began March 29 after a series of Palestinian suicide bombingattacks, Gaza has been relatively calm.
‘Oh Mother, Please Be Happy With Me’
School over for the day, the three boys told their unsuspecting parents theywere off to see friends. Hours later, their bullet-riddled bodies were lying in thedirt outside a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Suicide notes left by the classmates showed theyknew the venture would end in their deaths.
The Israeli army said the boys, named by relatives asYoussef Zaqout, Anwar Hamdouna and Ismail Abu Nadi, had beencarrying home-made pipe bombs, an axe and knives.
Futile or heroic, the boys' gesture of resistance tooccupation has deeply disturbed some community leaders who fearother youngsters might copy their quest for "martyrdom."
Their deaths mirrored that of another 14-year-old, HaithamAbu Shuqa, killed last week trying to stage a solo attack on aJewish settlement with two pipe bombs and a dagger. The pipe bombs are crude devices that use gunpowderextracted from ordinary fireworks.
Thousands of Palestinians marched on Wednesday behind thecoffins of the three schoolboys to a cemetery in Gaza City'sSheikh Rudwan district, where they had spent their brief lives.
All three had left notes for their families, explaining whatthey planned to do and asking forgiveness.
"Oh mother, please be happy with me. I ask you to pray toGod to make my martyrdom operation a success," wrote Zaqout. "Iam giving my soul for the sake of God and the homeland."
"Dad, Mum, forgive me. I am going to carry out a martyrdomoperation against a settlement," Abu Naid said.
Zaqout's mother could hardly choke back her tears. "What canI say? They killed my boy," she sobbed.
Asked if she understood his motives, she said: "Children aretormented by what they see on television. Israel has left allPalestinians, including children, with no choice but to die."
The suicide notes gave no inkling that any of the boys wasaffiliated to any militant Palestinian group. No organizationhas claimed responsibility for their action.
As Gaza parents pondered the state of mind of their ownoffspring, psychologist Fadel Abu Heen said many children wereseverely traumatized by seeing and hearing of Palestinians,especially children their own age, being killed by the Israelis.
"It is despair, despair and more despair. Children areunable to cope with the sad reality," he told Reuters, addingthat child suicide attackers were motivated more by anoverwhelming sense of hopelessness than surging nationalism.
Abu Heen said televised scenes of burned and dismemberedbodies, beamed into Gaza homes repeatedly during the West Bankoffensive launched by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon onMarch 29, had heightened the psychological damage.
He urged militant leaders and mosque preachers to wake up tothe risks and work to restrain suicidal adolescent impulses.
"We should not militarize the whole society. A schoolchildmust study and a grown-up fighter can fight," he said.
In a statement that blamed "Israeli massacres" for drivingthe boys to their deaths, Hamas told teenagers to refrain fromacts that might "leave many of them dead by settlement fences."
A Palestinian security source said police had interceptedseveral youngsters en route to Jewish settlements in the GazaStrip with violence in mind in the last few days.
Ibrahim Jaroush, among dozens of children waiting at a Gazahospital for the arrival of the three boy's broken bodies, saidhe wanted to emulate their quixotic deed.
"I want to get revenge for the boys killed by Sharon," the11-year-old said.