Al Qaeda-linked group claims foothold in West Bank

Masked Palestinian militants stand with their weapons during the funeral of Mahmoud Wajih Awad at Qalandiya refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

RAMALLAH, West Bank An al Qaeda-linked group said three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week were its members, and that their presence there showed that the Islamist network had taken root in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Al Qaeda has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority that administers the area last week denied an Israeli report the men were linked to the organization.

"By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence," said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors' Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.

Such groups have some grassroots support in the other Palestinian territory of Gaza, which is governed by the Islamist faction Hamas.

Israeli officials had said the three Palestinians killed on Tuesday belonged to an al Qaeda-linked cell plotting attacks.

They said the men were shot after opening fire at Israeli troops who tried to arrest them. The West Bank is policed by Israel in often close cooperation with the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

On Sunday, PA security forces spokesman Adnan Damiri said he had no information about the presence of al Qaeda-linked groups in the West Bank but that Palestinian investigators were looking into Tuesday's incident.

Many Palestinians chafe at security ties between the PA and Israel given the lack of clear progress in U.S.-sponsored peace talks between the sides. Those negotiations are billed as leading to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, a territory extensively settled by Israel, as well as in the Gaza Strip.

In its online statement, Majles Shura al-Mujahideen denounced the peacemaking efforts and threatened attacks on Israel and the PA.

"We call on every sincere person to cut off what is called 'negotiations', which causes one's nose to turn away with its foul stench of collaboration," the statement said. "We are serious about fighting the aggression against religion by the blaspheming Jews and the hypocritical collaborators."

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