Children again pay price of Mideast violence

Associated Press

BEERSHEBA, Israel – Two years ago, Noga Cohen’s children escaped injury when a suicide bomber blew himself up near their school bus. But on Monday another bomb struck home.

Three of Cohen’s seven children – her son Israel, 7, and two daughters, Tehila, 9, and Orit, 12 – lost limbs when their bus was sprayed by shrapnel from a mortar shell detonated by Palestinian militants as it traveled from the Kfar Darom settlement to their school in the Gaza Strip.

Israel lost a leg, Orit part of a foot, and Tehila was badly hurt in both legs.

“It looks like there are no more miracles,” said Cohen, as she waited at Soroka Hospital in the Negev Desert town of Beersheba for word from doctors on whether they would have to amputate Tehila’s legs.

In retaliation for the bus bombing, Israeli helicopters and boats unleashed an hour-long rocket barrage at nightfall, targeting the offices of Palestinian security forces in Gaza City with dozens of rockets.

Palestinian officials said 62 people were injured in the Israeli bombardments, about half of them civilians.

Cohen, 32, and her husband Ofir, 33, have lived in Kfar Darom, a settlement of 250 families surrounded by Palestinian-controlled areas, for 10 years.

Ideology brought the Cohens to Gaza. They wanted to claim some of the poverty-stricken, overcrowded strip with 1 million Palestinian residents for the Jewish people. The Cohens, who are among 6,500 settlers in Gaza, believe Gaza is part of Eretz Israel, the biblical land promised to the Jews by God.

But Noga Cohen said she never imagined she “would have to pay such a heavy price for safeguarding our homeland.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak visited the Cohen children Monday evening.

“These are children who will carry on their bodies, for the rest of their lives, the scars of this grave, criminal, barbaric act which we saw today,” Barak told reporters at the hospital.

The Cohen children, along with other youngsters and adults from Kfar Darom, got on an armored bus about 7:30 a.m. Monday for a 15-minute drive to their school in Gush Katif, a cluster of Jewish settlements in southern Gaza.

About three minutes after the bus left the heavily guarded settlement, three Palestinians detonated a 155mm mortar shell near the vehicle.

Shrapnel tore melon-size holes into the right side of the bus, killing two adults. Nine passengers were wounded – the driver, three women and five children.

Orit was resting in a hospital after the amputation of part of her right foot. “It hurts, it hurts,” whispered Orit as her grandmother watched over her.

Even now, Orit said, she did not want to leave Kfar Darom. “Then the Arabs would take it all,” she said.

Her little brother Israel, who lost part of a leg, was still in recovery. His uncle, Yaacov, said Israel likes to roller skate and play soccer and plays with X-Men action figures and Pokemon cards. “They (the children) don’t live in another galaxy. It’s just like anywhere else,” Yaacov Cohen said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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