JERUSALEM, May 9 (JTA) Israeli-Palestinian violence intensified even further this week as the mutilated bodies of two teen-aged Israelis one of them also an American citizen were discovered in a West Bank cave.
Ya’akov Mandell, 13, who also held American citizenship, and Yosef Ishran, 14, were found Wednesday after searches were launched the night before, when the two failed to return from a hike near their West Bank settlement of Tekoa.
Ya’akov’s family immigrated to Israel several years ago from College Park, Md.
The two youths were killed with stones and knives, prompting investigators to hypothesize that the murderers were Palestinians who encountered the youths in the area and spontaneously decided to kill them.
Investigators also were checking possible links between the double murder and the theft Tuesday night of 100 goats from Tekoa.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the murders, calling the youths victims of “Palestinian terror.”
“The horrifying murders constitute an additional escalation in the Palestinians’ violent terrorist activities against innocent civilian populations,” he said.
The United States also expressed outrage over the “vicious murder.”
In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said: “It is unacceptable that children have so often become the victims of this bloody conflict. It is time to put an end to this violence.”
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority opposes the killing of civilians, but Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sidestepped questions about the murders.
Shaul Goldstein, chairman of a regional settlers council, warned that if the Israel Defense Force fails to respond to the violence, settlers may take the law into their own hands.
“The fuse is very short, and we must remember that Yasser Arafat is the murderer responsible for the deaths of the two youths,” he said.
Israeli security forces detained about 15 Palestinians in the Tekoa area for questioning about the slayings, according to Israeli radio reports.
The murders came a day after Palestinian terrorists shot and stabbed to death a 48-year-old Israeli near the West Bank settlement of Itamar, and two days after a Palestinian infant girl was killed by Israel Defense Force shelling of a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Sharon apologized for the infant’s death in the shelling, which came in response to a Palestinian mortar attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
In fresh violence on Wednesday, Israel Radio quoted Palestinian sources as saying a three-month-old Palestinian infant was wounded along with her mother and six other people in exchanges of fire near Rafah in southern Gaza.
Asked about the murder of the Jewish teen-agers in the West Bank, Arafat instead spoke about the Palestinian infant.
“Today in Rafah a small baby has been exposed to the same tragedy,” he said.
Earlier, the Palestinian mother held the baby up to cameras as doctors pointed to a pinprick-sized wound on its head.
Also on Wednesday, IDF forces briefly entered an agricultural area in a Palestinian-controlled part of the Gaza Strip near Beit Hanoun from which, the IDF said, the Palestinians launch attacks on Israeli targets.
Palestinian sources said the IDF destroyed a police station. The IDF said the troops operated in agricultural areas only.
Israel this week accused the Palestinian Authority of attempting to acquire more advanced weaponry in order to escalate the fighting.
An Israeli naval ship on Sunday intercepted a Lebanese boat bound for Gaza carrying Katyusha rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, anti-tank rockets, grenades, some 13,000 rounds of rifle ammunition and other arms.
Sharon called the smuggling operation a dangerous development and a grave violation of agreements signed with the Palestinian Authority.
Israel Radio quoted sources in Sharon’s office as saying Arafat is trying to simultaneously put political pressure on Israel while escalating the conflict.
Arafat said he was unaware of the smuggling attempt.