Qaeda offshoot claims West Bank foothold after killings

Reuters

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - An Islamist group linked to al Qaeda has claimed three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week as its members, and said this shows it has 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, which administers the area, last week denied an Israeli report that the three 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 Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors' Assembly, in a statement posted on an Islamist web forum.

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

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 investigators were looking further into the killing of the three Palestinians on Tuesday.

PA forces arrested several hardline Muslims in the West Bank on Sunday for possible links to al Qaeda-inspired militancy, said one security official, who asked not to be identified.

Israeli officials had said the three men killed on Tuesday belonged to an al Qaeda-linked cell plotting attacks on Israeli and Palestinian targets. They said the men were shot after firing at Israeli troops who tried to arrest them.

The West Bank is policed by Israel, often in close cooperation with the Western-backed PA.

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 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 cause 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."

(Reporting by Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Dan Williams and Alistair Lyon)

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