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Despite public plea, Israel razes home of suicide bomber

NABLUS, West Bank -- The Israeli Army destroyed the home of a teenage suicide bomber yesterday despite his mother's public and impassioned criticism of the group that sent her son on the deadly mission.

Israeli military officials acknowledged the woman's grief, but insisted the policy of demolishing bombers' houses is necessary to deter more attacks. The militants who sent the teenager said they would try to rebuild the family's home.

The demolition focused new attention on an Israeli policy that has drawn criticism from Palestinians and human rights groups, which say tearing down homes amounts to collective punishment.

After the demolition, the bomber's mother, Samira Abdullah, backed off her criticism of her sons' handlers, saying her anger had subsided and praising the teenager as a hero.

The about-face underscored the complexity of Palestinian feelings over suicide missions, a mixture of support for attacks on Israel, unease with the growing use of teenage bombers, fear of angering militants, and a sense of dread over harsh Israeli reprisals.

On Monday, Abdullah's son, 16-year-old Eli Amer Alfar, blew himself up in an open-air market in Tel Aviv, killing three Israelis and wounding more than 30 others.

The victims were identified as Shmuel Levy, 65, a retired engineer who immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria in 1989; Leah Levine, a 67-year-old Holocaust survivor and folk dancing teacher; and Tatiana Ackerman, 32, a Russian immigrant with a husband and 12-year-old daughter.

In what has become a familiar scene, Israeli troops razed the home of Alfar's family yesterday in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank.

Alfar's family of 12, including his parents and six siblings, had removed their belongings ahead of the demolition.

The army also destroyed the homes of two senior members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the radical PLO faction that claimed responsibility for the blast.

Over the past three years, the army has demolished more than 612 homes of Palestinian militants involved in attacks on Israelis, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem. It said 3,900 people were left homeless.

Captain Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman, called the demolitions ''part of our policy to deter families from letting their children carry out attacks. We think this is very effective."

Ran Cohen, an opposition lawmaker and former colonel in the Israeli paratroops, said ''no one has proved" the demolitions are a deterrent.

''There is no doubt that when the family does not agree with the actions of their child, the destruction of their homes causes suffering and hatred that is in the end counterproductive," he said.

Monday's attack was the 117th suicide bombing since renewed Israeli-Palestinian fighting began in 2000 and the first since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat left for France last week for medical treatment. In all, 494 Israelis have been killed in the attacks.

Frustrated by Israeli security measures, militant groups have turned to using teenagers and women to carry out attacks, hoping they would raise less suspicion at the dozens of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank designed to capture bombers. The practice has made many Palestinians uneasy.

Alfar was one of the youngest Palestinian suicide bombers. After the attack, his parents lashed out at the militants who recruited him.

''It's immoral to send someone so young," said Abdullah, 45. ''They should have sent an adult who understands the meaning of his deeds."

By yesterday, however, Abdullah backed off, saying she understood the militants' motives.

''My son is a hero and a tough guy," she said. ''It's true he was young. But he would have done this in another year or two anyway."

Abdullah said her initial criticism was made in the heat of anger. But in the past, Palestinians have also come under pressure from militant groups after criticizing their tactics.

Militants routinely pay for the reconstruction of demolished homes. Neighbors and the Palestinian Authority also assist families who have lost homes.

Abdullah said she expected that help from the militants and donations from neighbors would help the family rebuild their $22,000 home.

In the meantime, her family is staying with neighbors.

''Many people can help them. We are doing our best," said a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who identified himself as Abu Yasar.

Israel's military response was relatively muted.

The usual signs of an imminent Israeli military counterstrike were absent this time -- the hurried high-level security meetings and troop movements -- and it appeared Israel would not immediately hit back.

Although Israel has pledged to show restraint in the wake of Arafat's illness, security officials said the muted response was not connected to his medical condition.

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, said yesterday doctors had ruled out leukemia and that Arafat's condition was improving.

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