Reporting from Ramallah, West Bank — As Israeli and Palestinian leaders opened peace talks Wednesday in Washington, tensions heightened back home in the aftermath of a shooting attack that killed four Israelis a day earlier.
Officials of the Islamist movement Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the drive-by shooting near the West Bank town of Hebron, accused its rival, the Palestinian Authority, of raiding the homes of 250 of its members in a sweeping crackdown.
A security official for the authority denied the allegation, saying police had detained and questioned about 50 people in connection with the investigation into the attack before releasing all of them.
"We did not make one single arrest," said Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority has condemned the attack as harming efforts to gain international support for the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinian infighting was a reminder that even if Israelis and Palestinians come to terms in U.S.-sponsored peace talks, deep divisions remain within the Palestinian movement.
Mahmoud Ramahi, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, said the authority's "vicious arrest campaign shows that the PA is not ready for national reconciliation."
Hamas, which had curtailed its violent attacks against Israel in recent months, vowed to strike again against Jewish settlers to protest Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Jewish settlers in the West Bank threatened to respond to the killings by immediately resuming construction projects that had been frozen during a 10-month partial moratorium called by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The building halt is set to expire Sept. 26, though Palestinian negotiators have warned that they might quit peace talks if construction resumes.
The settler group Yesha Council, which is pressuring Netanyahu not to extend the moratorium, dispatched bulldozers to clear ground for a new school and sports center in two settlements Wednesday evening.
"There is only one way to answer this terror, to move from this deep loss toward regeneration and building," Naftali Bennett, the director-general of Yesha, told Israel Radio.
Israeli government officials urged settlers to exercise restraint and warned that any attempts to break the moratorium would be stopped.
Abukhater is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem contributed to this report.