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Israel Halts Palestinian Contact

Israel has suspended all contacts with the Palestinian Authority in response to a West Bank shooting that killed three Israelis, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday.

The suspension is temporary, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

"In Israel, we have no desire to return to a reality of daily attacks against Israeli civilians," Regev said. "We want to send a very strong and sharp message to the Palestinians, and the temporary suspension of talks is that message."

Palestinian gunmen traveling in a speeding car opened fire at a crowded bus stop in a West Bank intersection on Sunday, killing three Israelis and wounding four others, before fleeing the scene, officials said.

Less than an hour later, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli vehicle in another part of the West Bank, wounding one Israeli, Army Radio and police said.

Also Sunday, Israeli troops shot and killed a top Islamic Jihad militant during a shootout in the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

Palestinian hospital officials said Nihad Abu Ghanim, 27, died after being shot in the head, abdomen and chest. Abu Ghanim was the top Islamic Jihad militant in the northern West Bank town of Burkin near Jenin.

Israeli military officials said that Abu Ghanim was killed when Israeli troops during a routine patrol in the northern West Bank spotted an armed Palestinian. A gunfight broke out, and he was shot and killed, the officials said.

It was the bloodiest assault in the West Bank since Israel completed its pullout from the Gaza Strip and another part of the West Bank last month. Israeli security officials have warned that following the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants would shift their activities to the West Bank.

The first attack occurred at the Gush Etzion junction, a main intersection at a large bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem. Israeli rescue services said one Israeli was dead at the scene and two others died in the hospital.

"The police and the army are searching, and the whole area has been cordoned off," said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

Israeli paramedics said two of the wounded were in serious condition.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to the ruling Fatah Party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, claimed responsibility for the Gush Etzion shooting.

The second attack took place near the settlement of Eli in the northern area of the West Bank, relatively far from the first shooting. Rescue services said one Israeli was seriously wounded.

David Baker, an official in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, denounced the shooting. "Israel removed roadblocks and made a number of humanitarian gestures to ease up on the Palestinians," he told The Associated Press. "It's unfortunate that the Palestinians have exploited these measures to carry out these murderous attacks."