Hamas Declares war on Israel as Jewish settlers shot dead in West Bank on eve of peace talks

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Pastor Dale Morgan

Aug 31, 2010, 5:04:07 PM8/31/10
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Perilous Times

Hamas Declares war on Israel as Jewish settlers shot dead in West Bank on eve of peace talks

Four Jewish settlers were shot dead in their car by suspected Hamas militants on Tuesday, on the eve of the first peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians after a break of nearly two years.

By Mark Weiss in Jerusalem and Alex Spillius in Washington
Published: 7:39PM BST 31 Aug 2010

West Bank shooting; Pregnant woman among four killed in shooting on West Bank
Israeli security forces described the attack as a well-planned ambush Photo: REUTERS

The shooting was the deadliest attack by militants in the West Bank for more than a year and was seen as an attempt to derail negotiations in Washington, where President Barack Obama was preparing to host a dinner for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, before the two leaders meet face-to-face on Wednesday.

Ehud Barak, Israels' defence minister, promised that Israel would "exact a price" from those who had carried out the shootings. "This is an apparent attempt by lowly terrorists to sabotage the attempt to achieve a diplomatic process."
The victims were all from the same family and included a pregnant woman aged 25, another woman aged 40, and two men, also aged 25 and 40, all from the settlement of Beit Haggai.

Israeli security forces described the attack as a well-planned ambush and said the gunmen made sure the driver and three passengers were dead before fleeing the scene.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but both Israeli and Palestinian security forces blamed Hamas, the hardline Palestinian faction which runs Gaza and opposes peaceful talks with Israel. Farzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, described the attack as "a natural response by the Palestinian resistance to the enemy's crimes".

Comments by both sides ahead of the talks had raised tentative hopes that after 17 years of stalled progress a compromise could be found to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Mr Netanyahu, who heads a fragile Right-wing coalition that is unlikely to accept a deal, said: "I am not naive. I see all the difficulties and hurdles and despite this, I believe that a final peace agreement is a reachable objective."

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mr Abbas: said: "We are ready for serious, real negotiations that lead to the end of the occupation."

Israeli media reported earlier that Mr Abbas had held a secret meeting with Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, on Sunday in Jordan, suggesting the two sides were attempting to find areas of compromise ahead of the talks in Washington.

The region's most important politicians each met Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, as the Obama administration continued the ground work for its high-stakes attempt at securing peace within a year.

Mr Obama has already failed to meet a deadline set when he came to office in January 2009. His efforts have been bedevilled by arguments about Jewish settlements in the West Bank, one of the two territories along with Gaza that would make up the Palestinian state.

Under US pressure, the Israelis issued a ten-month moratorium on new housing which expires on Sep 26, but continued existing building work.

The Palestinians have threatened to pull out of future talks unless Israel extends the moratorium, which Mr Netanyahu has so far refused to do.

In Washington, Mr Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, is considered to have good intentions but doubts remain that he is strong enough to sell to the Palestinian people any compromises that a final deal will require.

There is a consensus among former senior negotiators from both sides that the "two-state solution" cannot survive another failure, after 17 years' of efforts since the historic handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo.

Aaron David Miller, who was a leading member of Bill Clinton's negotiating staff, said: "If you don't see a two-state solution under an American president who cares so deeply about the issue, you are probably not going to see one at all."

Amjad Atallah, a former a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiators, said: "There is nothing that comes after direct talks, no options left."

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