Two wounded in new Hamas attack in West Bank

Hamas` military wing has claimed "responsibility for the heroic operation".

Beit Haggai: Two Israelis were wounded in a West Bank shooting claimed by Hamas, the second attack in 24 hours ahead of Middle East peace talks opening in Washington.

It followed the killing of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank on Tuesday in an attack also claimed by Hamas, which is vehemently opposed to the peace negotiations.

According to an initial investigation into the latest incident, shots were fired from a vehicle which had overtaken the Israelis` car as they were driving near the Jewish settlement of Rimonim, Israeli Army radio said.

One of the Israelis was seriously hurt, it said.

In a statement issued in Gaza, Hamas` military wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades claimed "responsibility for the heroic operation" that took place east of Ramallah, the political capital of the occupied West Bank.

"The Ramallah operation is a message to those who promised the Zionists that the Hebron operation would not be repeated," it said, referring to Tuesday`s deadly shooting in the southern Hebron region of the West Bank.

Israeli and Palestinian forces on Thursday sought to track down the gunmen involved in the second attack.

An Israeli military official hailed the cooperation with the Palestinian security forces which he said was at its highest level since the 1993 Oslo accords launched the Middle East peace process.

"They are arresting hundreds of terrorists," the official said, asking not to be named.

Israeli security forces set up checkpoints along major roads in the West Bank.

The attacks were staged ahead of the new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks being launched in Washington in a high-stakes peace mission by US President Barack Obama.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas condemned the latest attack as they appeared with Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

"I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace, but as as these events underscore once again, that peace must be anchored in security," Netanyahu said.

Abbas called for an end to bloodshed.

"Mr Netanyahu... what happened yesterday and what is happening today is also condemned," said Abbas in remarks addressed directly to the Israeli leader ahead of Thursday`s direct talks in Washington between the two leaders.

"We do not want at all that any blood be shed... one drop of blood on the part of Israelis and Palestinians."

Israel sealed off parts of the West Bank on Wednesday while Palestinian security forces arrested scores of Hamas supporters after the four settlers were gunned down.

Furious settlers vowed to flout a moratorium on settlement construction in protest at the attack, as tensions rose ahead of the Washington summit to re-launch talks suspended in 2008.

Israeli soldiers carried out house-to-house searches in villages in the Hebron area, near the Kiryat Arba settlement where two couples, including a pregnant woman, were killed on Tuesday.

Access routes to the city of Hebron were closed by military roadblocks.

"We are operating on a number of different levels since the event took place and will continue to act until we get a hold of the terrorists," military Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi said as he and other generals visited the area.

Hamas said Palestinian security forces had arrested more than 250 of its members, including relatives of MPs.

The Islamist group ruling Gaza accused Abbas in a statement from its MPs of "siding with the Zionist enemy and continuing its project to abort and uproot the resistance”.

The statement went on to warn "Fatah and its authority of the dangerous consequences of this escalation," referring to Abbas` secular party.

The victims of the shooting were believed to be settlers from the area.

Their bloodstained car was riddled with what looked like dozens of bullet holes from what the Israeli military said appeared to be a drive-by shooting.

Netanyahu expressed outrage at the attack.

"There are seven new orphans that were added to the circle of grief in Israel," he said ahead of talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Abbas also condemned the incident, saying it was intended to "disrupt the political process".

Obama described the killings as "senseless slaughter”.

Bureau Report

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