Israeli settler bludgeoned to death in West Bank: police

BROSH, Palestinian Territories - An Israeli settler was bludgeoned to death Friday by suspected Palestinian militants, police said, in the third violent attack on Israelis in the West Bank within as many weeks.

The attack, in which the retired army colonel's wife escaped with minor injuries, prompted rightwing Israeli MPs to call for the suspension of low profile peace talks between the two sides and of the expected release of more Palestinian prisoners.

"They were beaten with blunt instruments," at Brosh, in the northern Jordan Valley, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Army radio named the dead man as Sharia Ofer, a former commander of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and of various special forces units.

Police said Ofer's wife had been injured, and that they believed the killing was "definitely" the work of Palestinian militants.

An army spokeswoman said however it was still too early to say what the motive was.

Public radio said the couple were in their home at about 1:00 am (2200 GMT) when they heard a noise outside and the sound of dogs barking.

Ofer went outside to investigate and was attacked with iron bars and axes by two Palestinians, it reported. His wife, Monique, was also injured but escaped and raised the alarm.

The radio said the couple lived alone at the isolated property, which they ran as a village guest house. There were no visitors at the time of the attack.

News website Ynet cited a witness as saying that as she was taken to an ambulance, Monique Ofer cried out, "Leave me, go to him, help him".

Local council leader David Elhayani said he reached the scene about half an hour after the assault.

"It was a brutal murder," he told public radio.

"At the moment everybody's assessment is that this was a (Palestinian) nationalist attack whose goal was murder.

"Even after the woman fled the house they ran after her calling out to one another in Arabic 'Where is she?'"

Ynet said she crawled through the darkness alone and with no mobile telephone before reaching a main road where she flagged down a passing motorist.

The army said roadblocks had been set up in the area of the attack and, hours after the killing, security forces were still sweeping the rocky surroundings for the perpetrators.

"This murder necessitates a political response, and that is halting the talks, halting the release of terrorists and paying attention to settlement," Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a settler from the far-right Jewish Home party, told army radio.

"If we need to stop (talks) for a number of months to fight terror and stop the incitement, then that's what we need to do," hardline Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, told public radio.

The incident occurred less than a week after a nine-year-old Israeli girl was lightly wounded as she played in her garden in the West Bank settlement of Psagot, near Ramallah.

Her injuries have been described both as gunshot and stabbing. Two young Palestinian suspects were arrested on Monday, Haaretz daily reported.

On September 22 an Israeli soldier was shot dead in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, in what the army believes was a Palestinian sniper attack, although no suspects have been arrested.

An army spokeswoman told AFP on Friday that there was so far no progress in the investigation.

A day earlier a 20-year off-duty soldier was found murdered near the West Bank city of Qalqiliya. A Palestinian arrested as a suspect has reportedly confessed, but the motive and circumstances of the killing are still unclear.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were relaunched in late July after being stalled for three years, but few details have emerged after several rounds of discussions.