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Four Israelis Dead in West Bank Shooting

Four Israelis were killed on Tuesday after a Palestinian gunman opened fire on their vehicle on the West Bank. The Islamist militant group Hamas says its military wing carried out the attack. The attack came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepare to resume direct talks.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the gunman opened fire on the vehicle near the city of Hebron.

"An attack was carried out against a number of Israelis [who] were driving in a vehicle. Unfortunately, as a result of the shots that were fired, all four of them sustained critical injuries, the result being four Israelis killed -- two of them men, two of them women," said Rosenfeld.

Hebron has been a frequent flashpoint in the conflict between Palestinian residents and tens of thousands of Jewish settlers who live inside the city and in surrounding settlements.

Police say the Israeli victims were residents of a nearby settlement.

The shooting occurred as Israeli and Palestinian leaders prepared to resume U.S.-brokered direct negotiations in Washington. The talks have drawn opposition from within the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas. Some Palestinians have demanded that the Palestinian leader not attend the talks unless Israel guarantees that it will stop the building of Jewish settlements in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

Israel has refused to commit to a permanent construction freeze, saying that it wants to negotiate without preconditions.

Mr. Abbas has come under harsh criticism from some Palestinians over his government's security cooperation arrangements with Israel.

Within hours of the shooting, Hamas' military unit claimed responsibility for the attack.

Reporting for VOA, journalist Mohammed Dawwas in Gaza says Hamas' leaders called on hundreds of Palestinians to a rally late Tuesday.

"This rally is in the north of the Gaza Strip, in the Jabalya refugee camp, the biggest, most crowded refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. People are out celebrating the killing of four settlers in the West Bank," Dawwas said.

Hamas condemns all negotiations with Israel and has strongly criticized Mr. Abbas' decision to attend the talks.

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement promising a harsh response for the killings near Hebron, saying that Israel will "exact a price" from those responsible. He said the attack was aimed at sabotaging the peace talks.