Israel police and IDF troops at the scene of the West Bank shooting on Sept. 1, 2010. Emil Salman
Israel police and IDF troops at the scene of the West Bank shooting on Sept. 1, 2010. Photo by Emil Salman
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Israeli settlers in the West Bank are legitimate targets since they are an army in every sense of the word, a senior Hamas official told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Saturday, adding that Palestinians were still committed to an armed struggle against Israel.

The comment by Ezzat al-Rashk, a member of Hamas's political office, came in the wake of recent attacks against Israeli citizens in the West Bank.

On Tuesday, four Israelis were killed when unknown assailants opened fire at a vehicle they were traveling in near the West Bank city of Hebron. The following night, two Israelis were wounded in a similar shooting attack at the Rimonim Junction near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Earlier Thursday, Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the Palestinian security forces had apprehended two Hamas-affiliated Hebron residents suspected to have been involved in the deadly shooting attack on Tuesday.

The attacks coincided with the launch of U.S.-sponsored direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington. The Islamist Palestinian group Hamas has come out vocally against the talks. Claiming responsibility for Tuesday's and Wednesday's shootings, Hamas vowed to carry out further attacks.

"Attacking settlers is a natural thing," al-Rashk told Al-Hayat on Saturday, saying the "Zionist settlers are the occupation's first reserve military force."

"They are now a real army in every sense of the word, with more than 500,000 automatic weapons at their disposal, on top of the basic protection by the [Israel Defense Forces]," the Hamas official said.

Al-Rashk also referred to the ongoing attempt to relaunch talks between Israel and the PA, saying they were noting more "than a media circus through which the U.S. administration wants to market its policy."

Another Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, the organization's Lebanon spokesperson, told the London-based newspaper that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was willing to forfeit "99 percent of the Palestinians' rights, saying negotiations were over before they even began.

The comments by the two Hamas strongmen came as a Qassam rocket was fired by militants from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, exploding in an open field in the western Negev. No injuries were reported.