Four Israeli settlers were ambushed, shot and killed — apparently at close range — Tuesday evening, while driving to their homes in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, near the large and well-fortified settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, outside Hebron.
The deaths occurred on Road 60, just after 7:30 in the evening, at a time when Muslim Palestinians were breaking their fast on the 20th day of sacred month of Ramadan — a month of introspection, calm, and prayer when fighting and conflict is normally supposed to be suspended, according to Islamic tradition.
Yet, Hamas spokespersons in Gaza suggested that such an attack could be considered justifiable, while Palestinian officials in Washington for important meetings immediately pinned the blame squarely on Hamas.
Asked to comment, on the eve of meetings that will convene in Washington at U.S. invitation to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that were broken off at the start of Israel’s massive 3-week military operation against Hamas in Gaza, the U.S. State Department’s P.J. Crowley responded by saying that “anytime one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy. We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred”.
Tonight, the nearby Palestinian village of Bani Naim has been completely closed off by the Israeli Army.
Ma’an News Agency reported from Bethlehem that a previously unknown group calling itself the Al-Haq (“Rights”) Brigades claimed the attack, and said it was in response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to return to negotiations with Israel.
There is a large variety of agents provocateurs who might be motivated to carry out such an attack.
Israeli police reports suggest that the victims — a married couple with six children and one grandchild, another woman who also leaves behind a bereaved child, and a young man — were shot at from a car driving alongside their vehicle, then finished off at close range.
UPDATE: Hours after Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said the attack shows the failure of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation [despite the fact that the PA has no security role on Road 60, which is under total Israel control], PA security forces rounded up dozens of Hamas supporters across the West Bank (particularly in Hebron). And spokespersons for the West Bank settler group, Yesha — which is as opposed as Hamas (if not more) to the U.S. invitation to restart direct negotiations in Washington this week — announced that they will begin building all over the West Bank at 6pm on Wednesday evening. At least two of the four victims of this attack were settler movement activists. Earlier, Israel’s Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak vowed to “extract a price” for the attack — his choice of words echoing the settler “price tag” policy of retaliating with attacks on Palestinians and their property for any Israeli government action against West Bank Jewish settlements.
UPDATE ADD: By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff, and news agencies, reported that “Palestinian security forces carried out one of the largest waves of arrests in the history of the West Bank following Tuesday’s shooting attack near Hebron, in which four Israelis were killed, a Palestinian source said on Wednesday. According to the source, more than 300 people identified with Hamas have been arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces since the attack. This can be read in full here.
UPDATE TWO: The White House issued a statement last night blaming Hamas for the attack, saying that “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice”.
UPDATE TWO ADD: At the start of a two-day event in Washington intended to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, U.S. President Obama himself said: “we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist attacks. And so the message should go out to Hamas and everyone else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us.”