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Conflict in the Middle East

West Bank road

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Four Palestinians have been detained for attending a Jewish holiday celebration in a West Bank settlement, according to Palestinian officials.

A senior Palestinian security official said Sunday that "any Palestinian cooperation with settlers is viewed as violating the law, as he cooperates with the enemy." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter.

The Palestinians, along with the international community, object to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek both territories as parts of a future independent state, a position that has wide international backing. With nearly 600,000 Israelis now living in settlements on occupied lands, the Palestinians say their goal of establishing an independent state alongside Israel is rapidly vanishing.

While Palestinians see settlements as illegal, thousands of Palestinian laborers in the economically depressed West Bank continue to work in menial jobs in the Israeli communities.

The security official said the government is aware of laborers who have no choice but to work in settlements to support their families. He said officials are interrogating the men who attended last week's celebration to see if they violated any laws.

The four Palestinians were arrested Thursday after attending a Sukkot celebration in Efrat, a settlement outside of Jerusalem. During the holiday, it is customary for Jewish hosts to invite guests for meals inside a tent-like structure meant to symbolize the dwellings that ancient Israelites used during 40 years in the desert after being released from slavery in Egypt.

Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, who hosted the gathering, called on the Palestinian Authority to release his guests.

"It is absurd that having coffee with Jews is considered a crime by the Palestinian Authority," he said. "Initiatives that seek to foster cooperation and peace between people should be encouraged, not silenced. It's time the Palestinian Authority asks itself whether it would prefer to fan the flames of conflict instead of working to bring people together."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later lashed out at rights groups, often vocal in their criticism of Israel, for what he said was their reluctance to condemn the imprisonment of the Palestinians.

"Where is the outrage of human rights organizations? There is none. To their great shame, they are silent," Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. "I call on the international community to work to help free these innocent Palestinians whose imprisonment is yet another proof of the Palestinian refusal to make peace."


Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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