Settlers: We'll Violate Settlement Freeze in Response to Attack

Four Israelis were killed Tuesday in a shooting attack near Hebron, on the eve of the resumption of direct Mideast peace talks in Washington.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank said on Wednesday that they will break a government freeze on construction in their communities to protest a Palestinian shooting attack that killed four Israelis on the eve of new peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington.

Israel Police officers surveying the scene of the West Bank attack on Aug. 31, 2010. Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum

The Israelis were killed Tuesday evening as they drove through the West Bank near Hebron as a new round of Mideast talks opened in Washington.

The Yesha Council, which represents the settlers, said in a statement that construction will resume at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday.

"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," Naftali Bennett, Yesha director said. "We will start work this evening and build all across Judea and Samaria," Bennet told Israel Radio.

Last November, 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 Sept. 26 and the Palestinians say they will withdraw from talks unless it is extended.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967. There are over 100 settlements in the West Bank today. The future of settlements is one of the toughest issues Israel and Palestinians will have to reconcile in the new round of peace talks.

The Islamic militant group Hamas took responsibility for the attack calling it "heroic" and vowed that more would follow.

Hamas is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, and considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and European Union.

Hamas ousted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' forces from Gaza in bloody street battles in 2007.

Abbas has been trying to limit the Islamic militants' reach in the West Bank,jailing activists and even cracking down on mosque preachers.

The attack came as Abbas was in the U.S. capital meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's office 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."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack saying "terror will not determine Israel's borders or the future of the settlements."

In a statement released on Tuesday, the White House said the United States condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms".

The White House statement said that the "attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress" towards peace.

U.S. Jewish organizations were also quick to condemn the attack.

The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement released on late Tuesday, said it strongly condemned "Hamas for the murder of four innocent Israelis in Kiryat Arba," adding that the attack demonstrated once and again that Hamas is unrepentantly engaged in terrorism and violence, and dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel."

"The fact that, according to reports, thousands of people in Gaza joined in a public celebration of the attack is grotesque," the ADL statement added, saying the organization called on Abbas "to make clear to all Palestinians – in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – that terrorism is unacceptable, and that it undermines the Palestinian efforts for an independent state."

Also responding to Tuesday's fatal attack, the Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a statement, expressing outrage by the "barbaric terrorist attack that claimed the lives of four innocent people and left 10 children orphaned."

"Hamas has proudly taken credit for this brutal and inhumane act," the statement said, urging "the government of Israel must take the steps it deems appropriate to protect its citizens."

The Conference of Presidents also called on the international community to "stand behind Israel and take decisive steps to end Hamas’ reign of terror," saying the "international condemnations of Israel for measures to defend its borders and citizens, a right accorded every other nation, only encourages the terrorists."