Axe-wielding Palestinian kills Israeli teen
BAT AYIN, West Bank (AFP) - An axe-wielding Palestinian man rampaged through a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing a 13-year-old Israeli boy and wounding a seven-year-old, medics said.
Israel's hawkish new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly condemned the attack, warning through a spokesman that his government would have a "zero tolerance policy" towards such acts and urging Palestinians to do the same.
The perpetrator fled after attacking the two boys at Bat Ayin, southwest of Bethlehem, one of the West Bank's most radical settlements, shortly after midday, witnesses said.
The army was conducting a massive search in the area and residents of other settlements in the area were instructed to stay indoors, radio and television reported.
The boy killed was named as Shlomo Nativ, whose parents were among the founders of the settlement in 1989. His funeral was to take place later on Thursday.
The wounded seven-year-old was Yair Gamliel, the son of Ofer Gamliel who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for participating in a foiled attack on a Palestinian girls school in Jerusalem in 2002, media said.
"I was near the settlement offices when I saw a Palestinian with an axe running toward me," Avinoam, a witness to the attack, told Israeli television.
"I managed to block his arm, we fell to the ground and struggled but he managed to run away.
"I called for help, another resident fired at him, but missed. When I got up, I saw a child wounded in the head. I cried to warn his mother, who ran toward him," he said.
Bat Ayin is one of the most radical settlements in the occupied West Bank. Most of its fewer than 1,000 residents are hardline settlers who normally prevent Palestinians from entering the settlement boundaries.
In a phone call to AFP and a statement released to media in the West Bank, Islamic Jihad and the Imad Mughniyeh Group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was "a natural response to the crimes of the occupation."
In a statement in Gaza, Islamic Jihad hailed the attack, but denied it was responsible.
The Imad Mughniyeh Group is named after a Hezbollah commander who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in a February 2008 attack that was blamed on but denied by Israel.
It also claimed responsibility for the last deadly Palestinian attack in the West Bank, when two policemen were shot dead on March 15 near the settlement of Massua in the northern Jordan Valley.
The election of Netanyahu, who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, has sparked widespread concern among Palestinians and the international community for the future of the troubled peace process.
"The new Israeli government will have a zero tolerance policy toward these sort of terrorist attacks and refuses to accept them as routine," Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.
"The Palestinian government must both in word and in deed also have a zero tolerance policy to demonstrate its commitment to peace and reconciliation."
In a statement Thursday, Michael Ben Ari of the far-right pro-settler National Union party, said the attack was a consequence of Israel taking down some roadblocks in the occupied Palestinian territory.
"We warned that the easing of the roadblocks will bring catastrophe," he said.
Israel has more than 500 roadblocks in the West Bank, with the barriers severely limiting the freedom of movement in the territory home to 2.4 million Palestinians.
An MP with the party of firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, David Rotem, told Israeli television that "if it's necessary to assure the security of Israelis, we will increase the number of roadblocks" in the West Bank.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are home to an estimated more than 280,000 people, have been one of the main sticking points in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are considered illegal by the international community.