Use of Young Recruits Upsets Palestinians
In January, Hamas sent a mother of two young children as a suicide bomber to attack a crossing point between Gaza and Israel. Days earlier a 17-year-old bomber died when his bomb belt exploded prematurely, a week after his 15-year-old brother, Amjad, and a cousin were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
But the ages of the Tubas youths was especially shocking for many.
Neither police nor the army knew if the would-be attackers were the youngest sent against Israel, but most militants are in their late teens or early 20s.
The three boys "don't have enough life experience to make such decisions," said Hafez Barghouti, editor of the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.
Barghouti said the use of youngsters to carry out attacks was on the rise, though he declined to speculate why. Others have said that as Israel has become more adept at stopping attacks, the militant groups have been forced to turn to people less likely to arouse suspicion.
The boys' parents found it hard to reconcile their image of their children with that of militants.
Amira Abu Mahsen said Tarek learned to love motorcycles from his father, a mechanic. He also kept birds as pets. "They were his greatest joy," she said.
His father recalled that a neighbor had told him that two strange men were looking for the boy about a week ago. Relatives said they were stunned to find out the boys had been arrested.
"We never thought he was ever involved in politics," said Jaffar's father, Hussein Dababaat, before he burst into tears.
"I lost my son," he said.
© 2004 The Associated Press