Palestinian gunmen opened fire Tuesday on an Israeli car in the West Bank and killed four passengers on the eve of a new round of Mideast peace talks in Washington.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility.
Assailants firing from a passing car riddled the vehicle with bullets as it travelled near Hebron, a volatile city that has been a flash point of violence in the past.
Some 500 ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the city amid more than 100-thousand Palestinians.
One of the victims was pregnant, said Israeli Defence Forces spokeswoman Avital Leibovich.
Israel’s national rescue service said the victims were two men and two women, and Israeli media said everyone in the car was killed.
Video broadcast live on Israeli TV late on Tuesday showed a white Subaru station wagon standing at an angle at the side of a road, its windows shot out and its doors dotted with bullet holes.
The car was flanked by army and police vehicles and dozens of soldiers.
The attackers fled and Israeli forces set up roadblocks and carried out searches to try to catch them.
Meanwhile about 3-thousand people joined a rally in Gaza to celebrate the attack.
The attack occurred as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route toÂ the US for a White House summit to launch peace talks on Wednesday.
Upon arriving in Washington, Netanyahu condemned the attack.
Later, his spokesman Mark Regev told media in Washington that such attacks would not be tolerated.
“We want a peace agreement, but a peace agreement that must protect the safety of Israeli civilians,” he said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was already in the US capital meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
President Barack Obama hopes to forge a peace agreement within one year.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak promised a tough response to an attack he said was aimed at sabotaging the talks.
“Israel will not allow terrorists to raise their heads and will exact a price from the murderers and those who send them,” he said in a statement.
There is widespread opposition to the resumption of the peace talks among Palestinians.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, opposes any contact with Israel and has harshly criticised Abbas for agreeing to resume the negotiations.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza praised Tuesday’s attack.
“This operation … confirms the success of the resistance, despite the conspiracies to make it fail through the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Zionist enemy.”
Hamas is the main rival of Abbas and his Fatah movement.
Hamas expelled Fatah forces from Gaza in its takeover in 2007.
The US State Department said on Tuesday that it was aware that militants in the Middle East might try to sabotage peace talks.
Assistant US Secretary of State Philip Crowley told reporters that the State Department understood that, “not everyone sees this in the same way and there are those who will do whatever they can to disrupt or derail the process.”