World Council of Churches Condemns Hebron Killings

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches has condemned the killing of four Israeli settlers near the West Bank city of Hebron Tuesday night.

In a statement, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit denounced the use of violence as a means to gain peace in the volatile region.

"At a time when Palestinian and Israeli leaders are beginning negotiations, the extremists who encourage and legitimize violence must not be allowed to succeed", said Tveit.

"To bring security to both Israelis and Palestinians, the negotiations must stop the occupation and all the injustices that ordinary Palestinians experience each day," he continued.

Terrorist group Hamas has claimed responsibility for the killings, which happened on a road near the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. The victims included a pregnant woman.

The killings threatened to overshadow talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that are set to restart in Washington Thursday. The U.S.-brokered meeting will mark the first time the leaders have met for peace talks in 20 months.

Presently, the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestine remains a barrier to a lasting peace deal, with the Palestinians warning that the negotiations will fail if Israel resumes construction.

The Israeli government agreed to a ten-month freeze on the construction of settlements, which is due to end this month, and both leaders stand to lose support at home if they compromise.

In his statement, Tveit said he was praying for a successful outcome.

 "It is urgent that the leaders take the necessary steps towards a just peace and not bring another moment of disappointment and injustice to the people in the region," he said.

On Wednesday, Abbas and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet separately with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The following day, direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be formally relaunched in a ceremony at the State Department. Officials in Jerusalem say Netanyahu and Abbas also plan to meet alone while in Washington for an icebreaker.