New violence creates major challenge for Netanyahu

JERUSALEM — While Israel has elected a new leader, events this week demonstrated that the old problem of violence remains.

The terrorist slaying of an Israeli couple Sunday night and a deadly ambush the next day of Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon proved that Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu will face tough challenges as he attempts to fulfill his campaign pledge to maintain the security of all Israelis.

Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal said Sunday's attack underscored the need to implement the separation plan between Israelis and Palestinians drafted by the outgoing government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The plan, which called for a border of electronic fences and patrols between Israel and the territories, became bogged down amid budgetary concerns.

But Shahal said Monday that there was no other alternative for ensuring the security of Israelis, adding that he planned to persuade his successor in the incoming Likud-led government to pursue the plan.

Shahal's comments came after Yaron Unger, 26, and his wife, Efrat Unger, 25, of Kiryat Arba, were killed when terrorists riddled their car with bullets as they were driving home from a wedding late Sunday night. The attack occurred near Zecharya, a few miles from the West Bank, on an isolated section of the eastbound road between Ashkelon and Beit Shemesh.

Efrat Unger was in her eighth week of pregnancy.

The couple's 9-month-old son, Yishai, who was strapped into a baby seat in the back, was not hurt. The couple also had a 2-year-old son, Dvir, who was not with them.

Thousands of mourners attended the couple's funeral Monday afternoon, including Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, senior army officers and Knesset members.

No group has yet claimed responsibility, but police who found ammunition of the scene believe a cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine carried out the attack. Five Israeli army soldiers were killed and eight wounded, three of them seriously, in a Hezbollah ambush in the central sector of the southern Lebanon security zone the next morning.

Peres said Israel regarded the incident as "a serious attack" and that it would respond to it in "a manner, time and place that it deems appropriate."

In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called on Hezbollah to "cease and desist its attacks on Israeli soldiers."

Soon after the ambush, Israeli forces retaliated with tank and artillery fire near the Lebanese town of Nabatiya.

Netanyahu said Israel must wage war against Hezbollah with "assertiveness, determination and wisdom," The Washington Post reported.

The death toll from the ambush was the highest since the United States brokered a cease-fire in late April to the cross-border fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Israeli soldiers killed in the ambush were identified as: Lt. Yishai Shechter, 21; Lt. Lior Ramon, 21; Staff Sgt. Idan Gavriel, 20; Sgt. Yaniv Roimi, 21; and Staff Sgt. Eshel Amir Ben Moshe, 21.