JERUSALEM // Israeli settlers in the West Bank said today that they will break a government freeze on construction in their communities to protest at a Palestinian shooting attack that killed four Israelis on the eve of new peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Washington. Meanwhile Israeli forces sealed off parts of the West Bank today, while Palestinian security officials said they arrested about 50 people after four people, two men and two women, were gunned down just before the beginning of of fresh Middle East peace talks.
The Israelis were killed yesterday evening when they drove through the West Bank. The Yesha Council, which represents the settlers, said in a statement that construction will resume at 6 pm local time tonight. "The only response that will show our resolve against terror is to commit ourselves to building, and effective Wednesday evening we will bring this senseless freeze to an immediate end," the Yesha Council said in a statement
Naftali Bennett, Yesha's director said: "This attack again proved that despite what might be going on in Washington right now, the Palestinians have no goal to create a peaceful state for themselves but are entirely driven to destroy our state and our people. We will start work this evening and build all across Judea and Samaria," calling the West Bank by its Biblical name. However, it is not clear how much the settlers can realistically build before they are stopped by inspectors enforcing the moratorium.
Israel imposed a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements in an effort to get negotiations with the Palestinians back on track. The moratorium expires on September 26 and the Palestinians say they will withdraw from the talks unless it is extended. An Israeli police spokesman said yesterday evening that Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a vehicle traveling near Hebron. Some 500 ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the city amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.
The two couples, identified as Yizhak and Talia Aimes, Avishai Shindler and Kochba Even-Chaim, Israeli media reported that one of the women was pregnant and that the dead ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-40s. The reports said everyone in the car was killed. The bloodstained vehicle at the side of the road was riddled with what looked like dozens of bullet holes. The Israeli military said: "It appears that the attack was carried out by a passing vehicle, however the investigation is still under way." Israeli soldiers have carried out house-to-house searches in villages in the Hebron area, near the Kiryat Arba settlement
The attack was claimed by the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, which is vehemently opposed to the talks that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, are to relaunch in Washington tomorrow. Hamas said that more attacks would follow. About 3,000 Palestinians joined a rally in Gaza to celebrate the attack. The attack came as Mr Abbas was in Washington meeting the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
The office of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, issued a statement condemning the attack saying it was aimed at undermining his government's effort to build international support for "the Palestinian position and ending the [Israeli] occupation." Mr Abbas also condemned the attack, saying it was intended to "disrupt the political process". Mr Netanyahu said after the attack: "We witnessed today a savage murder of four innocent Israelis. There are seven new orphans that were added to the circle of grief in Israel. We will not let the blood of Israeli civilians go unpunished."
He added that the latest attempt to reach a binding peace treaty with the Palestinians must be based on "firm security arrangements" to ensure that future Palestinian rule in the West Bank does not lead to the territory becoming a staging point for attacks on Israelis. In Jerusalem, the United Nations peace envoy, Robert Serry, said he was shocked at the incident but that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas should not "allow the enemies of peace to affect the negotiations about to be launched".
Yesterday's shooting was the first fatal attack on Israelis in the West Bank since June 14, when a policeman was killed and two others were wounded, also in the Hebron area. * AP / AFP