The head of the World Council of Churches (WCC) the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit has joined a chorus of international leaders condemning Tuesday's shootings of four Israeli settlers near Hebron in the West Bank, adding that the incident must not mar the peace talks taking place in Washington.
The killings came on the eve of the restart of peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities who are meeting in Washington, D.C. today with U.S. President Barack Obama and tomorrow with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
"At a time when Palestinian and Israeli leaders are beginning negotiations, the extremists who encourage and legitimize violence must not be allowed to succeed," said Tveit in a statement issued Wednesday.
"To bring security to both Israelis and Palestinians, the negotiations must stop the occupation and all the injustices that ordinary Palestinians experience each day," he added.
Tveit is currently on a solidarity visit with WCC members and partners in Palestine, a trip that was planned several months ago but now happens to coincide with the peace talks in Washington.
Following meetings on Wednesday, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made joint remarks against the "senseless slaughter" of the four Israeli settlers, among whom was a 45-year-old pregnant woman.
"There are going to be extremists and rejectionists who, rather than seeking peace, are going to be seeking destruction. And the tragedy that we saw yesterday where people were gunned down on the street by terrorists who are purposely trying to undermine these talks is an example of what we're up against," Obama said.
"But I want everybody to be very clear: The United States is going to be unwavering in its support of Israel's security and we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist activities," he added.
Netanyahu called Obama's statement an expression of the duo's desire to fight against terrorism and noted that their Tuesday meeting was "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."
Speaking on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said that he had also condemned the attacks.
The peace talks will continue on Wednesday evening with a dinner between Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will hold trilateral negotiations with Netanyahu and Abbas.
Tveit said that he and the WCC are praying for the success of the negotiations, noting that: "It is urgent that the leaders take the necessary steps toward a just peace and not bring another moment of disappointment and injustice to the people in the region."