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West Bank Ax Attack Kills Israeli Child, Poses Test For New PM

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BAT AYIN, West Bank — A Palestinian killed an Israeli teenager with a pickax and seriously injured a 7-year-old boy in a rampage through this West Bank Jewish settlement Thursday, posing an early test for the country's new hard-line government.

Israeli media broadcast pictures of the body of 13-year-old Shlomo Nativ, bespectacled with long sidecurls and a large skullcap worn by observant Jews. The images also showed the red pickax on the ground with drops of blood splattered on a road.

The attacker escaped the scene and Israeli troops, joined by bearded settlers armed with automatic rifles, were conducting a manhunt in the area. In the nearby Palestinian village of Safa, troops searched houses and rounded up residents in a schoolyard. The military said all roads around the settlement of Bat Ayin were closed.

The settlement is notorious in Israel for being the base of the so-called "Bat Ayin Underground," whose members were arrested over a botched 2002 bombing on an Arab girls' school in Jerusalem. The wounded boy's father, a member of the underground, is currently serving a 15-year sentence for his involvement in that bombing attempt.

Avinoam Maymon, a 45-year-old resident of the extremist settlement, said he tried to stop the assailant after the attack, violently struggling with him for a minute or two.

"He tried to kill me. I grabbed his hand and took the ax and he escaped," he told The Associated Press.

He said the attacker fled to a neighboring "murderous village."

The attacker apparently entered Bat Ayin, located between Jerusalem and the southern West Bank city of Hebron, unhindered. The religious settlers have refused to build a security fence around their community _ standard practice in most settlements _ saying it would be a sign of weakness.

The teenager was quickly buried at a funeral Thursday afternoon, which was closed to the media at the family's request.

The attack came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office and will likely heighten tensions with the Palestinians. The leader of the hawkish Likud party has promised a firm hand against militants and lowered expectations on the prospects for peace.

Government spokesman Mark Regev called it a "senseless act of brutality against innocents" and warned the new leadership will have a "zero tolerance policy" toward militants.

A murky Palestinian militant group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh claimed responsibility for the attack in an e-mail sent to the AP.

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 e-mail said the militant group Islamic Jihad was also involved. The group's spokesman in Gaza would not comment.

The new government has already voiced skepticism about peace negotiations in its first days in office.

"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 and reconciliation," said Regev, the government spokesman.

Netanyahu was elected on a campaign that criticized the previous government's peace negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, Netanyahu has said he will seek peace, but has given few details about his vision for a final agreement. He has specifically refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state _ a key demand of the Palestinians and centerpiece of U.S. diplomacy in the region.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu's ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Israeli concessions to the Palestinians would only invite more war. He also rejected the previous government's peace talks, launched at a U.S.-sponsored conference in 2007.

Netanyahu has not commented publicly on Lieberman's statements. But a close Netanyahu ally, Cabinet minister Gilad Erdan, said Thursday that Lieberman's comments largely reflected the position of the prime minister's Likud Party.

The appointment of the Lieberman has angered Palestinians and raised international concerns because of his hard-line positions on peace and an election campaign that was widely seen as racist.

In Cairo, Egypt's Foreign Ministry called Lieberman's remarks "a setback to peace efforts."

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