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A number of factions inside the Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades last night took responsibility for the two shooting attacks in which three Israelis were killed and four injured yesterday in the West Bank.

The "Units of the Martyr Massoud Iyad" announced that it was responsible for the shooting in Gush Etzion. This group usually acts as a front for Fatah units controlled by Hezbollah and has in the past claimed responsibility for incidents carried out by other groups. Another faction, called the "Brigades of the Martyr Yasser Arafat - the Fatah Hawks" said that it was responsible for the shooting outside the settlement of Eli, north of Ramallah.

But the content of the two factions' statements do not substantiate the facts on the ground, and it is thought likely that other groups carried out the attacks. In the Hebron and Bethlehem areas, there are active Hamas and Islamic Jihad cells, which have perpetrated attacks recently without claiming responsibility.

Eyewitnesses reported that there were three men in a Subaru who drove hastily south toward Hebron after the Gush Etzion shooting. Palestinian sources said that the Israel Defense Forces later carried out wide-scale searches in the villages of el-Aroub and Beit Omar south of Gush Etzion, as well as other villages closer to Hebron, hunting the perpetrators.

The attacks were clearly timed to coincide with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' diplomatic mission abroad, the first leg of which began yesterday in Jordan. Abbas had not yet reacted to the attacks by press time last night, but the PA's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, condemned the two attacks on Israelis, as well as the slaying of an Islamic Jihad activist by Israel near Jenin. He said that "incidents of this kind are opposed to the interests of both sides and harm prospects to move the peace process forward and improve the situation in the West Bank." Erekat also noted the detrimental effect the incidents would have on Abbas' upcoming visit to Washington.

The incidents also come in the wake of an attack two days ago on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. He blamed the PA for not keeping its word to Hamas and said the organization would not remain silent.

At least 700 Palestinians, most of them Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, have been detained in the West Bank in the past few weeks.