BAT AYIN, West Bank (Reuters) - A Palestinian with an axe and a knife killed a 13-year-old Israeli boy and wounded a seven-year-old boy in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on Thursday, two days after a right-wing government took power.
Citing Israeli “crimes of occupation,” Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility in a statement.
“If this is a message to the new government, I think the Palestinians should understand the message we give in response will be much more severe,” said Israeli legislator David Rotem of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, the second biggest group in the new coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister had been updated on events and had instructed security officials to make “every effort” to apprehend the attacker.
“The Palestinian attacker used an axe and a knife,” a police officer said. “We are searching for him.”
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, called the incident a “senseless act of brutality against innocents.”
“The new Israeli government has a zero-tolerance policy towards these sorts of attacks and refuses to accept them as routine... The Palestinian government must, too, have a zero-tolerance policy towards terror, both in word and in deed, to demonstrate its commitment to peace,” he added
Police and the Magen David Adom ambulance service said the two boys were residents of Bat Ayin. The attacker was confronted by an adult, who wrestled away his weapons, they added.
The attacker then fled.
“He tried to stab me. I kicked him, he kicked me,” the man, Avinoam Maimon, told Israel’s Channel 10 television.
Some 1,000 Israelis live in Bat Ayin, near the Palestinian towns of Hebron and Bethlehem.
In 2002, three settlers from Bat Ayin were sentenced by an Israeli court to prison terms ranging from 12 to 15 years for trying to set off a bomb near a Palestinian girls’ school in Arab East Jerusalem.
The injured seven-year-old boy is a son of one of the three convicted settlers.
Gideon Ezra, a legislator from the centrist opposition Kadima party, warned the new Israeli government against taking action against the Palestinian public or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority after the attack.
“I fear that harsh steps would only bring Palestinian moderates closer to the extremists,” Ezra told reporters.
Rotem, who visited Bat Ayin after the attack, raised the prospect of tightening already stringent Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The party is led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who angered Palestinians and raised the prospect of tension with Washington on Wednesday by saying that Israel was not bound by a deal to start talks on setting up a Palestinian state.
In remarks published on Thursday, Lieberman said it would be difficult to make progress in peace talks with Palestinians so long as armed Hamas Islamists control the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinians must first of all confront terror, take control of Gaza and demilitarise Hamas,” he told Haaretz newspaper. “Without these, it will be difficult to move forward.”
Israeli police questioned Lieberman under caution for more than seven hours on Thursday on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, a police spokesman said. He denies any wrongdoing.
Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr, Adam Entous and Ori Lewis; Editing by Charles Dick
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