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Palestinian Security Cracks Down on West Bank Hamas Forces

Palestinian security forces have arrested hundreds of members of the Islamist militant group, Hamas. The crackdown comes after the group claimed responsibility for the killings of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank on the eve of U.S.-mediated peace negotiations.

Israeli and Palestinian officials called the attack near the southern West Bank city of Hebron an attempt to derail the first direct peace negotiations in almost two years.

Hamas - the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza - has condemned the peace talks, accusing rival West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate Fatah faction of treason for agreeing to sit face-to-face with the Israelis.

Palestinian negotiation team member Sufian Abu Zaida, a Fatah member, tells VOA Tuesday's attack was an attempt by Hamas make itself appear relevant in a process in which it is not participating.

"The political target is to destroy the peace process and to embarrass the Palestinian authority, to describe them as irrelevant and disconnected from reality," he said. "And the response of the Palestinian Authority is [to show] 'We are here. We are strong. We can harm you. That is the game, unfortunately."

A group representing Jewish settlers said it is resuming construction in West Bank settlements in response to the killings near Hebron.

Veteran Israeli left-wing politician Yossi Beilin says the Hamas attack and the settlers' decision to resume building in response to the attack shows how hard-line elements are working to destroy any possibility of concessions.

"There are on both sides extremist groups which vow to torpedo any process of peace or negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, said Beilin. "They were able to kill our Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. They were able to begin the second Intifada in 2000 and they will try to torpedo any development, even the current one, which nobody is expecting a success."

Israel is under a self-imposed moratorium on building inside settlements that is set to expire on September 26. The Palestinians have threatened to quit talks if the Israeli government does not extend the freeze.