TEKOA, West Bank -- Two 14-year-old Israeli boys were bludgeoned to death with rocks and their bodies discovered in a West Bank cave Wednesday. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said they were victims of "Palestinian terror."
One of the victims, Kobi Mandel, whose family recently immigrated from Maryland, held both U.S. and Israeli citizenship. Police said Mandel and his friend, Yossi Ishran, may have been killed in a chance encounter with Palestinians, not in a planned attack.
Fifteen Palestinians from the area were rounded up for questioning. Israeli security forces will track down the killers one by one, the defense minister said.
In the Gaza Strip, a 3-month-old Palestinian baby and her mother were injured by shrapnel when Israeli tanks shelled the Rafah refugee camp. The baby, Reema Ahmed, was in fair condition with a piece of shrapnel lodged in her skull, doctors said.
Sharon held the Palestinian Authority responsible for the slaying of the Israeli boys, saying it has done nothing to stop such attacks.
Asked for comment, Arafat said: "Today, a small baby in Rafah was exposed to the same tragedy." Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, said "killing civilians is a crime, whether on the Palestinian or the Israeli side."
The boys' bodies were found early Wednesday in a cave in Wadi Hariton, a dry riverbed about half a mile from the Tekoa settlement on the edge of the Judean Desert. Their families had moved to Tekoa only recently.
Kobi's family immigrated to Israel from College Park, Md., several years ago. Kobi's father, Seth, is a rabbi, and his mother, Sherri, a freelance writer, according to friends of the family.
Police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said investigators believed the boys were killed by Palestinians in what may have been a chance encounter. About 100 goats were stolen from Tekoa, not far from the site of the killing, but Yaffe said he did not know if the two events were related.
Yaffe said the boys were bludgeoned to death with rocks, but denied reports that they were bound when found.
The boys had skipped school Tuesday and gone hiking instead without informing their parents. The parents only notified security forces late Tuesday because they had assumed the boys had gone to Jerusalem after school to participate in a demonstration against what settler leaders say is the Sharon government's failure to protect their communities. At around midnight, when the boys had not returned, the parents notified security forces who began began searching early Wednesday.
The cave is located just half a mile from Tekoa, and many of the settlements' children liked to explore the area. "The cave had a magnetic attraction for all the kids in town," said Meir Ben-Chayoun, a Tekoa resident.
Sharon said the "heinous murder constitutes an additional escalation in Palestinian terror and violence against innocent civilians."
Asked whether he still considered Arafat a partner in future negotiations, Sharon said: "Anyone who causes killings of Israeli citizens is not a partner. If there is quiet, we will certainly be happy to renew negotiations."
In the past seven months of violence, there have been 437 deaths on the Palestinians side and 75 on the Israeli side. Dozens of Palestinian minors and at least six Israelis under the age of 18 are among the victims.
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