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Thousands Mourn Slain Israeli Couple

Mideast: Killing of two settlers is clear reminder that terrorism will continue as long as West Bank is occupied.


KFAR ETZION, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — Thousands of Jewish settlers wearing skullcaps and side arms on Monday mourned the killing of a young Israeli couple by suspected Palestinian terrorists--in a poignant reminder that Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu's tough campaign talk has not changed reality.

Their bodies wrapped snugly in Israeli flags, Yaron and Efrat Unger were buried next to fellow Jewish casualties in the long Israeli-Palestinian battle over West Bank land.

On Monday, no one had yet taken responsibility for shooting the couple Sunday night as they drove home from a wedding along a back road to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, on the outskirts of Hebron. But the message for the settlers and the incoming Israeli leader was clear: Terrorism will continue in the face of continued Israeli occupation of much of the West Bank.

"This was expected. They are trying to say they are going to show us," said Batsheva Shefer, a mourner who wore a long skirt and modest hat--the dress of Orthodox Jewish women. "Today it is their son. Tomorrow it is yours. . . . We are here because we identify with the family and with the crisis."

In his campaign against Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu promised peace with security. Although pledging to continue negotiations with the Palestinians, he said he would also expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank and send soldiers back into Palestinian-controlled cities, if necessary, to combat terrorism. The Palestinians would view either step as a violation of signed peace agreements.

Netanyahu met with Peres on Monday to discuss the attack inside Israel and a Hezbollah guerrilla ambush of Israeli soldiers occupying southern Lebanon that left five Israelis dead and eight wounded early Monday.

The guerrillas were perceived to be putting Netanyahu on notice that the war of attrition in southern Lebanon will drag on in the absence of an Israeli withdrawal and a peace agreement with Syria, the de facto governor of Lebanon.

Netanyahu has ruled out any return to Syria of the captured Golan Heights, which is Syrian President Hafez Assad's primary demand in exchange for peace.

About 20 Arab leaders have agreed to meet in Cairo on June 21-23 to work out a united approach to the new right-wing Israeli government. Already, Arab leaders have warned Netanyahu that an Israeli retreat from peacemaking could lead to bloodshed.


After meeting with Peres, Netanyahu issued a brief statement that the battle against terrorism "must be waged aggressively with determination and prudence, and this will be our policy."

Netanyahu has made few public statements since his election, saying he wants to form a government first and then set policy. His victory speech was aimed at calming international concerns about the peace process and at setting a tone of moderation. He is expected to conclude negotiations with his eight-party coalition this week and to announce his Cabinet.

The prime minister-elect met on Monday night with former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, a hard-line opponent of the peace process. Israeli media have reported that Sharon will be offered the Housing Ministry, a position that would allow him to expand West Bank Jewish settlements as he did under the last Likud government.

About 140,000 Jewish settlers live in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War. Under the Labor governments of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and, subsequently, Peres, Israel gave Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat control of Gaza and all West Bank cities except Hebron.

Such attacks as the killing of the Ungers harden the settlers' resolve to remain in the West Bank, which they call by the biblical name of Judea and Samaria.

"I think the suitable answer to such a terrible event can be holding . . . the land more strongly with our fingers, with nails deep, deep in the earth," said Uri Dasberg, the father of Efrat Unger.

The tombstones in the Kfar Etzion cemetery refer to the victims of terrorism as "martyrs" in the struggle for Jewish settlements, just as the Palestinians refer to their victims in this battle as martyrs in the struggle against Zionism--and Jewish settlements.

"Their death enables all people here to continue to live in the land of Israel," Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba said at the funeral.

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