Gunman Kills 4 Israelis In West Bank

Israelli soldiers block a road near a shooting in the West Bank on Tuesday. i i

Israeli soldiers block the road that leads to the West Bank village of Bani Naim and the Jewish settlement of Kyriat Arba, near Hebron, on Tuesday. Four Israelis were killed when a gunman opened fire on their car. Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images
Israelli soldiers block a road near a shooting in the West Bank on Tuesday.

Israeli soldiers block the road that leads to the West Bank village of Bani Naim and the Jewish settlement of Kyriat Arba, near Hebron, on Tuesday. Four Israelis were killed when a gunman opened fire on their car.

Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Four Israelis were killed Tuesday when a gunman opened fire on their car in the West Bank, just ahead of the first direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in 20 months.

Hamas's armed wing issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

The two men and two women, one of whom was pregnant, were shot in the city of Hebron near the settlement of Kiriyat Arba.  Israeli police said the car was sprayed with bullets, and the gunman then fled the scene.

The Israeli military called the incident one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent years.

Israeli police said they are investigating potential links between the attack and a similar attack in June in which an Israeli police officer was killed at a highway junction near Hebron.

The Israeli military closed off the scene of Tuesday's shooting and was working with Palestinian security forces to comb the area.

The city has been a flash point of violence in the past, but according to the Israeli military, the area has been stable for several years, and roadblocks had been dismantled in the area.

Some 500 ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the city amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.

In the statement issued by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's militant wing, the killings were called 'heroic."

The attack occurred as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route to Washington for a White House summit launching peace talks Wednesday. Hamas is not included in the talks and has vocally rejected them.

Netanyahu, leader of a hard-line coalition of religious and nationalist parties, has said that protecting Israel's security interests will be his top priority as he negotiates with the Palestinians.

Before leaving for Washington, Netanyahu told his Likud Party that he would seek "real arrangements on the ground" that ensure the security of Israelis.

"True peace is not a short break between wars, it's not a short break between terror attacks. True peace is something that persists dozens of years, that stands well for generations," he said.

President Obama hopes to forge a peace agreement within one year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier Tuesday that the success of the talks will depend on how hard U.S. mediators push to break any deadlocks.

In one major challenge to the first direct talks between the sides in two years, Abbas warned it would be difficult to continue negotiating if Israel fails to extend a 10-month curb on West Bank settlement construction that ends in late September. Netanyahu has not made a final decision.

Obama is hosting Abbas and Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, followed a day later by a first negotiating session, to be headed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Expectations are low, given that Abbas and Netanyahu are far apart on key issues and face internal opposition.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

In previous negotiations with Netanyahu's predecessor, Abbas agreed to minor border adjustments and a land swap that would enable Israel to keep some of its largest West Bank settlements but refused to share control over Jerusalem holy sites.

Netanyahu says he will not relinquish east Jerusalem and has not spelled out his vision for the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Abbas told reporters accompanying him to Washington that he hopes for an active U.S. role in the talks. He said that if the two sides reach a deadlock, the Obama administration should "present bridging proposals to bridge the gap between the two positions."

The Palestinian president said the one-year deadline is reasonable because many of the issues have already been discussed in previous rounds. "If there is goodwill, then it [one year] is more than enough," he said. "Everything is clear."

Netanyahu refuses to pick up where negotiations left off in December 2008 between Abbas and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was more moderate than Netanyahu.

The most immediate threat to negotiations is the renewed impasse over Israeli settlement construction.

Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-wing Likud Party and hawkish coalition partners to resume building inside West Bank settlements when the 10-month freeze on new construction ends Sept. 26.

Abbas argues that there is no point in negotiating the borders of a Palestinian state if expanding settlements pre-empt the outcome. About a half-million Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making partition increasingly difficult. The settlements are deemed illegal by the international community.

"If they [the Israelis] refuse to extend the stopping of settlement activities, then it will be difficult for us to continue the negotiations," Abbas said Tuesday. Earlier this week, he said he would quit the talks for certain if the freeze isn't extended.

On Tuesday, 35 Israeli authors, including Amos Oz, expressed support for a group of actors and playwrights who announced this week that they would not perform in a West Bank settlement. About 150 academics also declared their refusal to teach in the settlements.

Netanyahu has rejected the boycott calls, saying they play into the hands of what he called international efforts to "delegitimize" Israel's existence.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and Sheera Frenkel contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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