Palestinians say no to teen-age bombers

Arrest of 16-year-old prompts criticism in radical West Bank city


NABLUS, West Bank - In this ragged city, which has dispatched many suicide bombers into Israel, Palestinian residents delivered yesterday a rare rebuke to militant factions: Stop sending teen-agers as human bombs.

Palestinians have strongly supported suicide attacks in the conflict with Israel, and that backing is particularly strong in Nablus, one of the most radicalized and lawless West Bank cities.

But an aborted suicide attack Wednesday by Hussam Abdo, a 16-year-old Nablus resident, provoked a chorus of condemnation, led by his parents from their comfortable, middle-class apartment in one of the city's better neighborhoods.

"No one the age of my son should be used to commit such acts. This was a total shock to me," said Tamam Abdo, 50. Hussam is the youngest of her six children.

Previously, two 16-year-old Palestinians had carried out suicide attacks, including one from Nablus. But those bombings did little to stir Palestinian debate.

Hussam reached the Hawara checkpoint on the southern fringe of the city, where he surrendered after being confronted by Israeli troops. The episode, which was captured on television and in photographs, provoked a public discussion of an issue that Palestinians usually prefer to debate privately.

In another development, 60 prominent Palestinians took out a half-page ad in a leading Palestinian newspaper, Al Ayyam, saying that the Palestinians should not respond with violence to Israel's killing on Monday of Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The sheik was the leader of Hamas, the group responsible for the largest number of suicide bombings against Israel.

The advertisement represents a minority opinion, and it comes as Palestinian factions have been promising major retaliatory strikes. In Nablus, fresh graffiti along the city's main thoroughfare read, "The response is coming, no doubt."

Abdo, in a view echoed by many others, made clear that she opposes only suicide attacks carried out by underage bombers.

"Maybe if he is 20, then perhaps I could understand," she said. "At that age, they know what they are doing; they are fighting for their homeland."

She added: "We are living in a big jail, and some people are pushed to do this. We don't have any other means to defend ourselves."

Clusters of young men who gathered in the street outside the family home expressed similar sentiment.

"I don't think anyone here opposes these attacks because of the situation the Israelis have put us in," said Muhammad Zeidal, 20, a university student. "But to use someone his age is very, very wrong."

At the Abdo home, Hussam's parents described him as an immature teen-ager manipulated by others.

Asked what she would do if Hussam returned, Abdo said, "I would punish him." She waved her hand back and forth in front of her face to deliver a mock slapping.

During an interview, relatives gave Abdo a copy of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, with a large picture of Hussam on the front. She pulled the photo to her face and kissed it, then burst into tears.

The newspaper interviewed Hussam in custody, and he said that other students made fun of him because he was quite short.

"They hurt me so much that I wanted to kill myself," Hussam was quoted as saying.

Hussam's father, Muhammad Abdo, who owns a grocery store, said the family was well-off financially. He said Hussam spent hours on the family computer and liked to play soccer, but was an indifferent student.

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