WASHINGTON – Since the invention of the camera, every war has had its unforgettable images.
In Vietnam, it was the photo of a young girl screaming, her clothes burned away by napalm.
And now the grinding war between Israel and Palestinians has its own indelible portrait: the excruciating frames of television footage showing a Palestinian father desperately trying to shield his 12-year-son, Mohammed Aldura, from a deadly cross fire.
Caught in a hail of bullets, Mohammed is hit in the stomach and dies, huddled in his wounded father's arms.
No set of images has more painfully captured the raw terror and inescapable brutality of the communal conflict between Arab and Jew, said Vincent Alabiso, the Associated Press' top photo editor.
"It's one thing to read about the horrors of war," he said in an interview. "But when you confronted by pictures like this, there is no denying what that horror is."
A White House official said President Clinton was "stunned and saddened" by the images. The incident prompted him to call Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to express "his deep concern about the escalation of violence and to convey his condolences to the families of the victims," a White House spokesman said.
In New York, the Senate campaigns of Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rick Lazio carefully declined comment about the photos or the current violence, apparently concerned of falling afoul of Jewish voters who make up an influential segment of the state's electorate.
By Tuesday, at least 51 people had been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the fighting, which began last week after Israeli Likud politician Ariel Sharon visited Jerusalem's Temple Mount and declared Israeli sovereignty over the disputed enclave. Clashes between enraged Palestinians and Israeli troops quickly spread.
Images of Mohammed's death were caught by French TV during Saturday's pitched battle outside the heavily guarded settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza strip.
Israel Army Says Boy Killed by Israeli Fire
Tuesday, a senior Israeli army commander said Mohammed was apparently killed by Israeli fire, expressing sorrow.
"This was a grave incident, an event we are all sorry about," the army chief of operations, Giora Eiland, told Israel radio Tuesday. "We conducted an investigation ... and as far as we understand, the shots were apparently fired by Israeli soldiers from the outpost at Netzarim."
The deputy army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, called the boy's death "heartrending," but said the Palestinians have been making "cynical use" of children in the confrontations with Israeli troops.
Like Yaalon, many ordinary Israelis have seized upon the boy's death to blame Palestinians once again for allowing their children outside during violent clashes, or even encouraging them to participate.
The slain boy's relatives freely acknowledged that he often joined other children from the camp in throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. His nickname was Mitwali — a slang word for little troublemaker.
For Palestinians, the boy has become a powerful new symbol of what they see as their continued victimization by Israel.
"Stop shooting our soldiers, our old people, our youth, our women," Arafat said in a statement Monday. "Get Israeli soldiers out of Palestinian cities and refugee camps."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report