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Middle East
Crackdown after West Bank shooting
On the eve of peace talks, Palestinian police arrest 150 Hamas supporters after group's armed wing kills four settlers.
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2010 14:15 GMT
Even before the deadly attack, Israeli settlers had promised to build more homes on Palestinian land [AFP]

Palestinian security forces have swept through the West Bank, arresting more than 150 Hamas members, after the group's military wing claimed responsibility for killing four Israeli settlers, according to senior Palestinian security officials.

The crackdown on Wednesday comes on the eve of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington, and appears to be an attempt by the government of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to send a message that his organisation is serious about the talks.

"Dozens of Hamas members have been arrested, mainly in [the] Hebron area and across the West Bank," the Palestinian security source said. "We are investigating if they have any links to the shooting attack. There will be more arrests."

Israeli security forces also arrested about 50 people, raiding houses in villages around the Hebron area after sealing off parts of the West Bank.  

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, Sherine Tadros, said: "The Israeli police have been given a broad mandate by the political leadership to find those responsible for the attack".

Hamas anger

Hamas' political bureau denied that it was trying to sabotage the latest round of US-brokered peace talks and condemned the Palestinian Authority for "treason".

"These arrests prove the security services in the West Bank work to serve the security of the occupation," Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said.

The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement, claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday, saying it would be the first in a "series of operations" in the West Bank.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said he would prevent a repeat of such attacks, drawing a strong rebuke from Hamas.

"These are political arrests," Omar Abdel-Raziq, a Hamas legislator, said. "They are trying to tell the Israelis that they are capable of doing their job after the attack."

US mediated peace talks begin in Washington on Thursday, but Hamas, the democratically elected Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip, will not be participating.

'New orphans'

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, expressed outrage over the attack as he travelled to the US for talks with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

"There are seven new orphans that were added to the circle of grief in Israel," he said, before meeting Clinton. One of the dead Israelis was a pregnant mother.

After attacks on Israeli settlers, right-wing groups in Israel demanded that Netanyahu end a freeze on the construction of new Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.

"This brutal 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, spokesperson for the pro-settler Yesha Council, said.

"The only response that will show our resolve against terror is to commit ourselves to building."

Gill Hoffman, chief political correspondent for the Jersualem Post, told Al Jazeera that the "terrorist" attack undermines Israeli confidence in President Abbas.

"Maybe he isn't who we should be talking to. Maybe he isn't really in charge," Hoffman said.  

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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