RAMALLAH // Four Israelis were killed last night when Hamas gunmen opened fire on their car at the entrance to a West Bank settlement. The shooting outside the Kiryat Arba settlement, near Hebron, came as leaders gathered in Washington for direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis scheduled to begin tomorrow, the first face-to-face discussions in 20 months.
Israeli emergency authorities said the four victims were two men and two women from the same family, all residents of another nearby settlement, Beit Hagal, south of Hebron. They said one of the women was pregnant. By late last night no one had claimed responsibility for the shooting, the second such fatal incident in three months. In June, an Israeli policeman was killed and two others wounded in a similar incident also near Hebron.
Both Israeli and Palestinian security services have been on heightened alert in case of any attempts to raise tensions before or during the negotiations, though expectations for the talks are low on both sides. Hebron is a frequent flashpoint for violence, with about 400 hard-line religious settlers, protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers, living in the heart of a city that is home to 166,000 Palestinians.
The Kiryat Arba settlement, which abuts Hebron, houses 7,000 settlers. The settlement was home to Baruch Goldstein, an army doctor who in 1994 killed 29 Muslims at prayer at Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, apparently in part an attempt to derail the newly agreed Oslo Accords. email@example.com