Settlers back protester's fatal message to Barak

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Sara Lisha had been planning to come to west Jerusalem today. She had a message for her prime minister, Ehud Barak. She was going to parade a big banner outside his office. "Our blood is not worthless!", it said in red and black letters.

Sara Lisha had been planning to come to west Jerusalem today. She had a message for her prime minister, Ehud Barak. She was going to parade a big banner outside his office. "Our blood is not worthless!", it said in red and black letters.

Yesterday she made it to the holy city but as a corpse punctured by bullets, swaddled in cloth and carried on an open stretcher to the cemetery. Hundreds of angry, frustrated Jewish settlers came to mourn her and to show comfortable, secular Israel - the land behind the 1967 Green Line that cares little for their struggle - that they back her message.

Mrs Lisha, 42, a sports teacher and mother of five, died on Monday when her car was fired on by Palestinian guerrillas in a drive-by shooting on an Israeli-controlled road on the West Bank. She was one of four Israelis, including two soldiers, to die in ambushes within a few hours. It was Israel's bloodiest day since the intifada began and marked the Palestinians' switch to guerrilla warfare.

Mrs Lisha, the fourth settler to be killed in this conflict, lived in Neve Tsuf, one of scores of small Jewish settlements built across the West Bank and Gaza in contravention of international law on the land wherePalestinians aspire to build their state.

Some 200,000 Israelis live in the occupied territories - excluding Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem - usually in hilltop sites protected by automatic gates, high fences, armed settler patrols and the conviction of a divine right to be there. For weeks, they have demanded that the Israeli army do more to defend them from their unwanted, unloved Arab neighbours. After Monday - a day on which four Palestinians also died - these calls have reached a deafening level. The mourners made a point of marching past Mr Barak's office.

"This incident should never have happened," said Yair Shalev, 31, a US-born settler and friend of the dead woman."There is so much we can take."

Distrust was clear among the hundreds of mourners. Some of her pupils from West Bank schools wore hats with the logo: "Barak is losing the country." Men wore pistols and M-16s with their beards and skullcaps. All listened sympathetically to a funeral eulogy by her rabbi, American-born Yonaton Blass: "We want our leaders to fight them [Arabs] with no compromise. The murderers will not win. We will build and expand our community."

After the killings, the Israeli army effectively blockaded all Palestinian towns on the West Bank by enforcing "internal closures" - trapping their residents. These were still in force last night. But the army knows this is a perilous issue. "We really don't want to suffocate the Palestinians as a people," said one military source, "We know this is a very, very fragile task."

Most of Israel's 6.2m citizens do not much like the settlers, who they see as right-wing extremists and obstacles to a peace deal. Few, however, would now question their right to protection by the army against Palestinian "terrorists".

Yet, with 24 Israelis killed in the last seven weeks and no chance of peace talks, Mr Barak is under growing pressure to take more draconian steps in the occupied territories.

Some are clear. Israeli sources say there are plans to target the Palestinian guerrilla groups attacking settlers. There will be more, dubious, hits like last week's assassination of a Tanzim leader in a helicopter rocket attack in Bethlehem, which also killed two women passers-by. But pressuring the Palestinians risks hardeningtheir determination to fight on.

So far, with more than 215 dead, this is precisely what has happened. Yesterday there was more pressure - three Palestinian youths were killed.

Today it will become clear whether Israeli tactics willwork. It is 12 years since Yasser Arafat's symbolic declaration of independence, made in exile in Algiers.

Palestinians talk of stepping up their war, by trying to cut off settlements and drive out the army. Mr Barak may be forced to play even harder ball.

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