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Two Israeli teenagers found dead

Four-month-old Iman Hiju, the youngest victim of the conflict  

JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials have launched an investigation after two Israeli teenagers, believed to have been stoned to death, were found in a West Bank cave.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel said the bodies of the two, aged 13 and 14, were found about half a kilometre away from the Jewish settlement of Tekoah on the edge of the Judean desert area.

The bodies were discovered around dawn Wednesday after the pair went missing the day before.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has more on the preliminary Mitchell report (May 6)

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel: More children killed

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Sharon blames Palestinians

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Mitchell Report denounces Jewish settlement growth

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State Department calls Israeli settlement reports 'provocative'

An Israeli settlement spokesperson said they appeared to have been stoned or battered to death and preliminary investigations showed they had also been knifed.

One of the bodies is believed to have been mutilated.

Kessel said Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had released a statement blaming the "heinous crime" on the Palestinian Authority for "allowing" the recent escalation of violence and accusing the Palestinian media of incitement.

There was no immediate comment from the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, ongoing clashes between Israelis and Palestinians continued Wednesday with two mortar rounds fired at the Jewish settlement of Nissanit in Gaza and a roadside bomb exploding as an Israeli army patrol was passing on the border between the Gaza and Egypt.

Nobody was hurt in either incident.

On Tuesday the youngest victim of the clashes, which have claimed over 500 lives - the vast majority Palestinian -- was laid to rest.

The Associated Press reported thousands of mourners gathering in the Deir el-Balah refugee camp in Gaza, for the funeral of four-month-old Palestinian Iman Hiju -- killed by Israeli shelling of another camp in Gaza.

Mourners chanted "Long live Palestine" as gunmen fired in the air.

Arye Orlando Agranouni, 48, an Israeli, found shot while guarding orchards at the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank, was buried the same day.

Wife mourns
The wife of Arye Agranouni mourns his death  

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed regret Tuesday for the baby's death, but said responsibility ultimately belonged to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not controlling mortar attacks coming out of Palestinian territories.

"Children should not be involved," Sharon said at a news conference, describing the child's death as accidental.

"I am convinced the Israeli forces have no intention to hit civilians," he said. Israeli officials described Monday's attack in southern Gaza as retaliatory, following Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlements.

Sharon also accused the Palestinians of trying to smuggle weapons into Gaza, after the Israel Defense Forces said it intercepted a boat containing weapons off northern Israel Monday.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat denied Sharon's accusations.

"We don't control the Mediterranean or the shores of the Mediterranean," Erakat added. "Our fishermen cannot even fish in sea of Gaza for past seven months."

"I believe that Mr. Sharon is trying to hide his crime and terror when he kills a four-month-old baby, injuring schoolchildren and now assigning blame and finger-pointing at Arafat," Erakat added.

On Friday an international commission, led by former United States Senator George Mitchell, presented a draft report into the violence, which included a call for a freeze on all settlement activity, to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Sharon has been quoted by various Israeli media outlets as saying he rejects the recommendation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States has repeatedly voiced its opposition to new settlement building and similar construction because it will only "further inflame the already volatile situation."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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