Al-Qaida-linked Group Claims Growing Foothold in West Bank, PA Denies

Majles Shura al-Mujahideen confirms three members killed by Israel last week.

An Al-Qaida-linked group has confirmed that the three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week were its members, and said that their presence there proved that the Islamist network has taken root in the Palestinian territory.

Al-Qaida has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority that administers the area last week denied an Israeli report that the men were linked to the organization.

"By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence," said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors' Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.

Such groups have some grassroots support in the other Palestinian territory of Gaza, which is governed by the Islamist faction Hamas.

Israeli officials had said the three Palestinians killed on Tuesday belonged to an Al-Qaida-linked Salafist cell plotting attacks.

They said the men were shot after opening fire at Israeli troops who tried to arrest them. The West Bank is policed by Israel in often close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

An unnamed Palestinian security official said last week that Palestinian police have arrested 22 suspected Salafis in Hebron and the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin in the last three weeks.

But Palestinian Authority security forces spokesman Adnan Damiri said Sunday  he had no information about the presence of Al Qaida-linked groups in the West Bank but that Palestinian investigators were looking into last week's incident.

Many Palestinians chafe at security ties between the PA and Israel given the lack of clear progress in U.S.-sponsored peace talks between the sides. Those negotiations are billed as leading to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, a territory extensively settled by Israel, as well as in the Gaza Strip.

In its online statement, Majles Shura al-Mujahideen denounced the peacemaking efforts and threatened attacks on Israel and the PA.

"We call on every sincere person to cut off what is called 'negotiations', which causes one's nose to turn away with its foul stench of collaboration," the statement said. "We are serious about fighting the aggression against religion by the blaspheming Jews and the hypocritical collaborators."