Netanyahu pledges to build in revenge

`Houses by the thousand' vow after murders on the West Bank

In the cemetery of the settlement of Beit El a small red mechanical grab was digging graves for Eeta Tzur and her 12-year-old son Ephraim, shot in their car by Palestinians on a by-pass two miles away.

Thousands of Israeli settlers from across the West Bank who yesterday poured into Beit El, a sprawling red-roofed settlement outside the autonomous Palestinian town of Ramallah, were told by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, that they were "pioneers" and "heroes" of our time. He promised Beit El would never be uprooted.

Yoel Tzur, whose wife was killed and was himself wounded along with four of his other children in the attack, denounced the Oslo accords to mourners, describing Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, as "a corrupt villain". Pointing to terraced hills which form an amphitheatre around the Beit El cemetery, he said that for every such attack "a thousand new houses should be built on them".

A sign of the heightened tension between Israelis and Palestinians came yesterday when an Israeli shot and killed a Palestinian worker he suspected was trying to break into his house. Police said Samir Abu Shafqa, 40, from Gaza, who worked in the village of Kochav Michael, was killed and four other Palestinians wounded.

The killing of Eeta and Ephraim Tzur by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was carried out on the 28th anniversary of the founding of the organisation, whose leadership is based in Damascus. The once-powerful radical organisation is split into factions, but Israel says the PFLP carried out similar drive by-shootings six months ago.

The gunmen fled into Ramallah, where their burned-out car was found on a rubbish dump. Israeli officers, including Uzi Dayan, the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank, were escorted by Palestinian Authority police into Ramallah, to look at the wreck.

Israeli troops had completely sealed off Ramallah yesterday and were turning back all cars. Mr Netanyahu said the killings and the flight of the PFLP gunmen into Ramallah was a "test-case" for Mr Arafat. He added: "We expect that they will extradite them and first of all help us to arrest these murderers of children." The attack on the Tzur family is also a test for Mr Netanyahu since it is the first such killing since he became Prime Minister six months ago.

The Palestinian Authority said the shooting hurt Palestinian interests because "an attack of this kind will give the Israeli government a pretext to delay the implementation of the peace process".

The extent of the opposition to the Oslo accords within Mr Netanyahu's government was made clear at the grave-side. Ariel Sharon, the Infrastructure Minister, said: "The murderers continue to go about their business. The Oslo accords, that put the question of protection of Israeli citizens in the hands of a war criminal by any law, continue to cause bloodshed."

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