Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Look for Common Ground in Direct Talks
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GWEN IFILL: Israeli and Palestinian leaders return to Washington once again in search of common ground.
There was talk of peace in Washington today, but renewed violence in the Middle East. Hundreds of people gathered in the Beit Haggai settlement on the West Bank to mourn four Israeli settlers shot dead yesterday by Palestinian gunmen. The attackers sprayed the settlers’ car with automatic weapons fire outside Hebron, killing everyone inside.
The militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, claimed responsibility. It was seen as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Washington peace talks. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, said the attack wouldn’t derail their peace efforts.
Israeli President and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres:
SHIMON PERES, Israeli president: None of us has the slightest intention in his mind to submit to this threat. We shall continue to negotiate. We shall continue our work. We shall overcome the terrorists.
GWEN IFILL: The Palestinian Authority responded by rounding up more than 150 Hamas activists on the West Bank today.
MAJ. GEN. ADNAN DAMIRI, spokesman, Palestinian Security Forces (through translator): These arrests came for security reasons. And what Hamas did was against the peace process and aimed to kill the last glimmer of hope for the Palestinian people.
GWEN IFILL: But Hamas supporters in Gaza celebrated, and the Hebron attack, plus a shooting today that wounded two Israelis, cast a pall over initial White House meetings.
President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The message should go out to Hamas and everybody else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us from not only ensuring a secure Israel, but also securing a longer-lasting peace in which people throughout the region can take a different course.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli prime minister: The president’s statement is an expression of our desire to fight against this terror. And the talks that we had, which were indeed open, productive, serious in the quest for peace, also centered around the need to have security arrangements that are able to roll back this kind of terror and other threats to Israel’s security.
GWEN IFILL: The president also met with President Abbas as well. Both leaders will join Mr. Obama for dinner tonight.
BARACK OBAMA: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are two leaders who I believe want peace. Both sides have indicated that these negotiations can be completed within one year. And as I told each of them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.
GWEN IFILL: The formal talks begin at the State Department tomorrow. Also joining will be King Abdullah of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.