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The leg of a 11-year-old boy was severed by an exploding land mine in the Golan Heights yesterday, and his 12-year-old sister was slightly injured by shrapnel.

The children, who were on a family trip to the Golan, wanted to play in the snow near Mount Avital in the northern Golan and apparently entered a minefield by mistake.

Members of the Yuval family, by the bedside of the two children, Daniel and Amit, at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, said the area looked completely open, and it is unclear to the family why there were no clearly visible warning signs. "We must thank the Higher Power that a bigger tragedy was averted, and that other land mines didn't harm the many families who were playing in the snow at the very same place," a relative said.

The police and the Israel Defense Forces have begun an investigation.

The IDF says the area is a minefield, which is fenced off and marked, but it is not yet known whether the family noticed the warning signs or if they were covered by snow. Some hikers in the area at the time said there was no fence, while others said there was.

Kobi Gerstler, from central Israel, who was hiking with his family and saw the explosion, told Haaretz: "There was a muddy trail that went off the road. There was no fence and no sign warning against going off the road. We went on the trail and we were playing with the children, and suddenly I heard a huge explosion and I saw the mine fly 20 meters into the air."

Gerstler said he lain on top of his son, and then he ran to help the family that had been injured. "The incident happened on the hill near the trail. The mother was standing below with the two girls and the father was up the hill with three boys. I helped bring the girl down and the father carried the boy, who was badly injured, in his arms."

The IDF spokesman in the Northern Command said the minefield was fenced off and marked as required, and that they "regret the incident and wish a speedy recover to the injured." The statement also urged the public "to refrain from entering, for any reason, areas where live fire is engaged, land mines and Palestinian territories."

Gerstler said: "There was a trampled cattle fence - and no sign. I took a picture, and the police took the memory chip from my camera to confirm my statement." Gerstler said he went back to the scene about two hours later and saw that someone had put the fence back up and the warning signs were then visible. "I was a combat soldier and I can say I am careful about these things. I would not have dared take a risk if I knew there was the slightest danger."

Another witness, Pini Yaron of Kibbutz Merom Golan, told Haaretz, "Apparently the family was looking for a place where they could slide down a snowy slope where there were no hikers." Yaron said it was difficult to know whether the place where the family entered the minefield was properly marked. Other people at the scene told Haaretz the fence was not covered by snow.

The head of the Golan Tourist Association, Shmulik Hazan said when people see fresh snow they give into the temptation to cross fences in what can end in tragedy, like today." Hazan reiterated the call on hikers to keep to marked trails and roads.