Four Israelis were killed Tuesday night in a devastating shooting attack in the West Bank believed to have been aimed at torpedoing the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks set to kick off on Wednesday in Washington DC.
The four, from the settlement of Beit Hagai, were driving near the entrance of Kiryat Arba when they came under heavy gunfire. The IDF was investigating two possibilities – that Palestinian terrorists had laid an ambush alongside the road or that the shots were fired from a passing car.
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IDF troops immediately launched searches for the perpetrators and the Central Command decided to raise the level of alert out of fear that Palestinian terrorists will increase efforts to perpetrate attacks in the coming days with the goal of torpedoing the peace summit in Washington.
The four were two couples – one aged 25 and the other 40. One of the woman was pregnant. According to eyewitness reports, the terrorists succeeded in hitting the passengers in their initial fire but then approached the car and shot them occupants at close range.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was briefed on the attack by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin. Barak spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who is en-route to Washington DC and updated him on the developing events. He also spoke with Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.“This is very grave incident,” Barak said. “The IDF and Israeli security forces will do everything they can to capture the murderers. Israel will not allow terrorists to lift their heads and will exact a price from the murderers and those who sent them. This is likely an attempt by the low-life terrorists to prevent the diplomatic process and to hurt the chances of the talks opening in Washington.”Head of the IDF’s Civil Administration Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai spoke with his Palestinian counterparts and updated them regarding the attack. PA security forces were also conducting their own independent investigation into the attack.
It was unclear if the attack was carried out by an established terror cell or if it was perpetrated by a small group of attackers that are not affiliated with a larger terrorist group.
While the IDF apparently did not have specific intelligence regarding the attack on Tuesday night near Kiryat Arba, there was a fear in Israel that terror groups would use the launching of the new round of peace talks to perpetrate attacks within the West Bank.
Ashkenazi and OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi toured the West Bank earlier this week and met with brigade commanders. Ashkenazi asked the commanders to raise their level of vigilance for the duration of the summit in Washington out of fear that either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or even al-Qaida-affiliated elements will launch attacks against Israel.
The forces were also asked to avoid friction with the Palestinian civilian population and to demonstrate sensitivity at the crossings between Israel and the West Bank.