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13-year-old Israeli killed in ax attack

AN ax-wielding Palestinian militant went on a rampage yesterday in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, killing an Israeli 13-year-old and wounding a 7-year-old boy before fleeing the area.

The attack posed an important test for Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has promised a firm hand against militants and expressed skepticism about prospects for peace. Government spokesman Mark Regev called it a "senseless act of brutality against innocents."

Police and military units were searching for the attacker, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld and army officials. Army forces were operating in the nearby village of Safa, searching houses and taking village residents to a central school yard. The military said all roads around the settlement of Bat Ayin were closed.

A resident of the settlement, identifying himself only as Avinoam, said he fought off the attacker.

"First I grabbed his hand with the ax so he wouldn't kill me," he told Channel 10 television. "I fell down, and then I managed to get up. ... At some stage I managed to grab the ax from his hand" before the attacker escaped, he said. The assailant had "a lust for murder in his eyes," he said.

A 13-year-old boy was killed and a 7-year-old boy was badly wounded, Israeli emergency services said.

A militant group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group is named for a Hezbollah mastermind killed in Syria last year in what is believed to have been an assassination by Israeli intelligence.

It has claimed a number of past attacks, but Israeli defense officials believe it is likely a name used by other groups to avoid Israeli reprisals.

The claim said the militant group Islamic Jihad was also involved, but the group's spokesman in Gaza would not comment.

The attacker apparently entered Bat Ayin, south of Jerusalem, unhindered. The settlement is home to religious settlers who have refused to build a security fence around their community, as is the rule in most other settlements, saying fences are a sign of insecurity.

The attack was likely to heighten tensions between the Palestinians and Israel's new hard-line government, which has already voiced skepticism about peace negotiations in its first days in office.

"The new Israeli government will have a zero tolerance policy toward these sorts of attacks and will refuse to accept them as routine," Regev said. "The Palestinian leadership must both in word and in deed too have a zero tolerance policy to this sort of attack to demonstrate its commitment to peace."


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