Barak: Israel will "exact price from murderers"
Israeli security forces will "exact a price from the murderers" who killed four people in the West Bank, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said late Tuesday, dpa reported.
Four Israelis were shot dead Tuesday evening near the Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank, the Israeli army confirmed.
The attack came just ahead of Thursday's resumption of Israeli- Palestinian direct peace negotiations in Washington.
"This is very grave incident," Barak was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post.
He said Israeli security forces "will do everything they can to capture the murderers. Israel will not allow terrorists to lift their heads and will exact a price from the murderers and those who sent them.
Barak, who spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was en route to Washington, described the attack as "likely an attempt by the low-life terrorists to prevent the diplomatic process and to hurt the chances of the talks opening in Washington."
An unidentified member of Netanyahu's staff was cited by the Ynet Israeli news site as saying the talks would go ahead as planned.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said two women and two men were killed while riding in a car at the Bani Naim intersection near Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement located just outside the city of Hebron. She said that the attacker or attackers opened fire from a hiding spot.
A helicopter was despatched to evacuate the dead. According to Israeli media, one of the dead was a pregnant woman. All four victims were believed to be from the same family.
The military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement, Izeldein al- Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for what it called a "heroic attack."
The group said earlier that the attack was "a natural response to the crimes of the Israeli occupation and its settlers. ... It is a reiteration that the armed Palestinian resistance is present despite the war to uproot it."
The attack recalled the kind of violence of the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, a decade ago in the West Bank. In recent years, however, the region had become relatively more peaceful.
It came on the day that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton started a series of meetings with Middle East leaders in Washington ahead of face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian discussions.
Clinton was first meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to be followed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and an Egyptian delegation led by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
She was scheduled to meet with British former prime minister Tony Blair, the representative for the Middle East quartet, and Netanyahu Tuesday evening.
The burst of activity Tuesday precedes a ceremonial White House dinner hosted by US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, which is to be attended by Abbas, Netanyahu, Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II.
On Thursday, Clinton will open the first direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in nearly two years.
Asked about the killings, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the US was aware that "there are those who will do whatever they can to disrupt or derail the process."
"We are cognizant that there could be ... external events that can ... have an impact on the environment," he said.
"We also are cognizant that there may well be actors in the region who are deliberately ... making these kinds of attacks in order to try to sabotage the process."