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In the public relations battle brewing on-line, there is a new eye to the center of the storm surrounding the war with Hizbullah - a series of photos showing Israeli children writing messages on shells meant for targets in Lebanon.
Questions over the photos' authenticity have been put to rest by authorities that were present during the incident, which occurred on July 17 near the northern border. The mostly local children had been brought to see the shells by their parents. Although it remains unclear who encouraged them to write the messages, their colorful scribbles, including a Star of David, hearts, and "From Israel, with Love," have appeared in dozens of blogs, or on-line journals, and on-line photo hosting sites.
Although the IDF has failed to issue a response to the incident, a spokesman from the IDF said it "appeared as though the situation occurred unofficially." Although an officer was present during the incident, the soldiers, and the IDF as a whole, did not condone or condemn the incident.
An official close to Israel's public relations campaign said that there was "no way" to spin the incident in a positive light. "Some people are simply irresponsible," said the official.
On-line, the photos are being called "horrifying," "disgusting" and "despicable." "I still cannot understand why or how anyone would allow their young children to walk up to missiles or other explosives. The militarization of children is always a crime," said one user by the name of "aviv2b" on the Guardian Web site, which ran a lengthy discussion about the photos.
Another reader, by the name barbicanangel posted that "I still say Israel is right in this war, however, the picture of young Jewish girls signing the shells is quite disturbing."
Although the photos were first taken by professional photographers from AFP, Associated Press, and Haaretz, they were circulated on-line through the popular photo-hosting Web site Flickr.com. That site republished the photos, bringing them to the attention of hundreds who later posted them on their own personal sites.
Many users on both the flickr and Guardian Web sites said that the images proved how difficult it was for a country to control their public relations image on-line. "There is no way to tell how, when, where, or why these photos were taken," said one anonymous poster. "We have to rely on the people hosting the Web sites, who have no official accountability hanging over their heads at all."
Over the years, there have been a number of photos that have been popularized by the on-line community such as photos of young Palestinian babies dressed as suicide bombers, or Israeli children in Purim costumes mocking Palestinian political officials.
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