Israelis to Break Freeze on West Bank Construction to Protest Palestinian Attack

JERUSALEM -- Israeli settlers in the West Bank said 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 the Israelis and Palestinians in Washington.

The Israelis were killed Tuesday evening when they drove through the West Bank.

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," Bennett told Israel radio, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical name.

It's not clear how much the settlers can realistically build before they are stopped by inspectors enforcing the moratorium.

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 the peace talks unless it is extended.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and Jewish settlers began building communities in the territory soon after. There are over 100 settlements in the West Bank today. The future of settlements is one of the toughest issues Israel and the Palestinians will have to deal with in the new round of peace talks.

Palestinians want the West Bank along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as part of their future state.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tuesday evening that Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a vehicle traveling near the West Bank city of Hebron -- a volatile city that has been a flash point of violence in the past. Some 500 ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the city amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.

Israel's national rescue service said the victims were two men and two women from settlements in the area. Israeli media reported that everyone in the car was killed including a pregnant woman. A total of seven children were orphaned by the attack, according to the reports.

The Islamic militant group Hamas took responsibility for the shooting and vowed that more attacks would follow. About 3,000 Palestinians joined a rally in Gaza to celebrate the attack.

"The Qassam Brigades announces its full responsibility for the heroic operation in Hebron," Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida told The Associated Press.

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

Hamas ousted 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.

Tuesday's attack came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington 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."

The last round of Mideast peace talks broke down in late 2008 after Israel launched a three-week military offensive against Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip to stop near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israel. Officials close to the talks said at the time that the sides were close to an agreement.

To reach an agreement the two sides will have to work out the core issues at the heart of the conflict; the borders of an independent Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, the fate of Palestinian refugees and ensuring security for Israel.