Israeli, 16, lured to death via e-mail

Boy went to meet girl from Internet in the West Bank

`Execution' in Ramallah

January 19, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - In a grisly twist to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a 16-year-old Israeli boy was shot to death in the West Bank town of Ramallah after being lured there to meet someone he believed was a girl with whom he had become friends through e-mail, officials said last night.

Calling the death "an execution," an Israeli official said the boy had been shot 15 times. Palestinian police said the assailants were masked men.

The boy, identified as Ophir Rakhum, lived in the coastal city of Ashkelon and apparently became enamored through e-mail of someone he believed to be a girl living in Ramallah, authorities said.

Instead of going to school Wednesday, he traveled from Ashkelon to Jerusalem, intending to meet the girl, and carrying a large amount of money.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official said, the boy met a woman and got into a car with her. The two traveled north toward Ramallah. When he got there, "there was no girl."

"They [the assailants] took advantage of it. They invited him," the official said.

The boy's body was found yesterday near the Jewish settlement of Psagot. At first, authorities believed that the boy was a Palestinian and turned his body over to a Palestinian hospital for autopsy.

When a family in Ashkelon reported their 16-year-old son missing, Israeli police asked for the body to be handed over to them. Based on pictures provided by the parents, police determined that the victim was the missing boy. The money that he had been carrying was missing.

Police said they discovered the e-mail romance after examining the computer the boy used.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Palestinian Authority condemned the killing.

In a statement, Barak said: "The kidnapping and cold-blooded murder of an Israeli boy is a despicable crime committed by vile murderers who lack humanity."

Barak said security services would try to track down the killers.

A criminal case

A Palestinian police source, describing the case as criminal, not political, said several arrests had been made but that murder charges had not been filed.

Police are investigating how the boy was lured to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and how he got there.

They are also investigating whether he, in fact, corresponded with a woman or individuals intent on causing him harm.

The Arabic-language newspaper Al Quds, quoting witnesses, reported that a red Mazda with the boy and a number of masked men was seen near the southern entrance to Ramallah. The boy was pulled out, shot execution-style, and thrown back into the car, which sped off, the paper said.

Boy's body dumped

A Palestinian police source said the body was dumped on the outskirts of Ramallah, near Psagot.

Condemning the killing, a senior Palestinian official said: "The Palestinian people, despite the victims and the martyrs who were killed by the Israeli terrorism and violence, reject any harm to civilians."

The killing occurred as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are trying to prevent a fresh outbreak of violence.

"It's very difficult to conduct negotiations seriously in an atmosphere of such violence," Barak's statement said.

"There are many voices in Israeli society who say it is unbefitting to conduct negotiations under such conditions."

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