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Israeli Boy Shot in Bus Is Buried

Mideast: As family mourns 'Meni,' 14, Sharon announces a shift in policy toward Palestinian towns.

November 06, 2001|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Minutes into the funeral Monday for 14-year-old Menashe Regev, his grandmother pushed her way through the mourning crowd. "Where is Meni? Where is Meni?" she wailed over and over until reaching his shrouded body. Then she broke down in sobs.

Meni and U.S.-born Shoshana Ben Yishai, 16, were killed Sunday on their way home from school when a Palestinian militant emptied his assault rifle into a crowded bus at one of Jerusalem's busiest intersections.

Meni had not wanted to go to school that day, but his mother had insisted. At Monday's funeral in Jerusalem's hillside Givat Shaul cemetery, the family lamented that his short life had been so difficult. He was not the sharpest of students, but a new school year at a new school held promise for a fresh start.

"But you only had a month to enjoy this," said his older sister, Liat.

Brother Rami, about 16, could barely speak as he stood before the mourners, a crowd dominated by religious teenagers. "I am asking forgiveness for everything I have ever done to hurt you," he said. "God will avenge your death. And if he doesn't, I will."

And so one of the latest victims in more than 13 months of bloodshed was laid to rest. Since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation erupted last fall, about 900 people have been killed, 80% of them Palestinian.

Though Israelis have suffered far fewer casualties, the random nature of much of the killing has devastated their sense of security. The attack on Meni's bus and another shooting last week that killed four Israeli women have heightened this fear and raised questions about government measures to fight the Palestinians.

As he slowly began to reverse half a dozen military incursions into major West Bank cities, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday announced a shift in policy: Israel will deal with local commanders in Palestinian areas, city by city, in effect circumventing the centralized control of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

With each withdrawal, local Palestinian commanders will be expected to enforce a cease-fire in that area, Israeli officials said.

"The new approach is trying to divide up areas and hand over responsibility to local commanders: We withdraw and leave it to the local commander on the ground to take the necessary measures to stop the shooting," Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said. "Each area will be judged on its merits."

Sharon announced the strategy to a parliamentary committee and later to a meeting of his Likud Party, but reports of it had already circulated. Critics here said it in effect divides Palestinian territory into cantons and undercuts and sidelines Arafat, a man Sharon openly loathes, regards as a terrorist and with whom he has generally refused to deal.

Relying on local commanders also risks more violence if they don't cooperate, Sharon said. If the plan goes as he hopes, the prime minister said, he will travel to the United States before the end of the month for an already postponed meeting with President Bush.

Opinion is mixed when it comes to Israel's incursions into the West Bank. Tanks and troops surrounded or invaded six major Palestinian cities after the Oct. 17 assassination of a hard-line Cabinet minister by a radical Palestinian faction. Under U.S. pressure, Israel evacuated troops from two of the cities, Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Forces pulled out of a third city, Kalkilya, early Monday despite the bus shooting. But the city remained blocked by tanks on its outskirts, Palestinian officials said, and the stifling closures that Israel slapped on villages across the West Bank and Gaza Strip have not been lifted.

Israeli officials said early today that further withdrawals are on hold after a bomb explosion Monday in a factory at a Jewish settlement near the West Bank town of Jenin. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing, which wounded three Israelis.

"Judging by all the cumulative data, it was a bad deal," political commentator Hemi Shalev, writing in Monday's Maariv newspaper, said of the incursions. The measures have soured Israeli relations with Washington and given the world images of heavy damage inflicted by Israeli forces on the largely Christian city of Bethlehem and its residents. There were numerous civilian casualties.

"The army and the government are engaged '24 hours a day' in the 'war against terror,' " Shalev said, "but there are only a few people left who still believe that something will come of it."

Speaking to the parliamentary committee, Sharon said the invasions had allowed Israeli security forces to hunt and kill 15 terrorism suspects and arrest 85 people. An additional 42 Palestinians were killed in armed clashes with Israeli troops, he said.

But the stated goal of tracking down the killers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi was not achieved.

A survey published Monday by Tel Aviv University's Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research showed broad Israeli support for the incursions and the government's policy of "targeted killings" of alleged terrorists.

According to the poll, 68% of Jewish respondents favor the incursions and 77% favor "the continuing assassination policy." At the same time, 65% do not want the government to destroy the Palestinian Authority, and a similar majority supports peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

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