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Suicide bombing is turned into child's play

In a rally by Islamic militants, fourth-graders acted out a suicide bombing Friday as adults threatened Israel with new attacks. In a West Bank march, boys waving assault rifles rode on their fathers' shoulders.

In another "Day of Rage" against Israel, Palestinian children took center stage, prompting warnings by psychologists about lasting damage, but no public outcry.

The role of Palestinian children in six months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting has been hotly debated. Israel says Palestinians send children to the front lines of protest to win the world's sympathy. The Palestinians say Israeli troops have used excessive force against demonstrators, regardless of their age.

Of 352 Palestinians killed since late September, 66 were under age 18; 57 Israeli Jews and 19 others have also died in the fighting. Of the more than 10,000 Palestinians injured, nearly 2,000 were minors.

On Friday, a 17-year-old boy was killed by Israeli fire in stone-throwing clashes at the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel. The army said the boy had broken away from a group of stone throwers and approached an army post in a way that appeared dangerous to soldiers.

The militant Islamic Jihad group on Friday staged a memorial rally for three children of families linked to the movement who have been killed in clashes in recent months. One of the victims was a 13-year-old boy, Mohammed Hales.

In the highlight of the rally, 15 children, all younger than 10, staged a play about a suicide bombing in Israel, with the coaching of the adults.

A boy was dressed as a suicide bomber. He wore a black face mask and a green robe and had a little package wrapped in tinfoil strapped to his belt. His voice muffled by the mask, he led the children in chanting, "We die for the sake of God." Another boy slipped into a cardboard box with an Israeli flag on it and lay on the ground symbolizing the aftermath of a suicide bombing.

Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami defended putting children on the stage. "The Islamic nation and the Palestinian nation, from the small children to the old men, are ready to sacrifice for this land," he said.

Fadel Abu Hein, a child psychologist in Gaza, said participation in such demonstrations can rob children of hope. "It instills fear," Abu Hein said. "It makes them more aggressive."

The Israeli government, meanwhile, announced a slight easing of its ban on Palestinians traveling to Israel. Israel said it would grant entry permits to 500 Palestinian business people, and that it had opened the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan to Palestinians.

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