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Israel to build settler homes after attack

WORLD
By | March 15th 2011

JERUSALEM

Israel said on Sunday it would build hundreds of settler homes in the West Bank after an Israeli couple and three of their children were stabbed to death in a settlement in an attack blamed on Palestinian militants.

The killings and Israeli government approval of more housing for settlers in the occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state threatened to stall any efforts to revive a US-backed peace process frozen over settlement expansion.

Troops searched outside the settlement of Itamar, near the Palestinian city of Nablus, for the attackers who snuck into the home of Ehud and Ruti Fogel at night and knifed them and three of their children, aged 11, 4 and 3 months, as the family slept.

A 12-year-old daughter found the bodies after returning home from an evening youth group meeting. Two other children sleeping in another room in the house were uninjured.

There was no claim of responsibility for the killings, which Israel attributed to Palestinian militants.

Israeli police were on alert in the West Bank for any revenge attacks on Palestinians by settlers.

With anger high in Israel and among settlers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement that "ministers decided to authorise construction" of several hundred housing units in the Etzion bloc of settlements and in Maale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer.

The move was likely to draw international dismay and harden Palestinian resolve not to return to the peace negotiations that broke down in September after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements.

"This decision is wrong and unacceptable and will only create problems," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Expanded construction in West Bank settlements could bolster Netanyahu within his governing coalition, which is dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own right-wing Likud.

CONDEMNATION

Several hours after the attack, Abbas put out a statement condemning "all acts of violence against civilians, regardless of who carried them out and their motives".

Netanyahu, who spoke with Abbas by phone, said the statements by the Palestinian leadership were not strong enough and it must move to end what he termed incitement against Israelis in Palestinian schools, mosques and media.

Last week, Israeli officials said Netanyahu was weighing whether to launch a new peace initiative to try to get negotiations moving again. Israeli commentators said he would now face stronger right-wing opposition.

"These murderers will be seen as heroes by our neighbours," Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, referring to Palestinians, said at the family's funeral, which was attended by thousands in Jerusalem.

In the eulogy, Yaalon questioned whether "any agreement we sign (with the Palestinians) will be worth the paper it is written on".

No starting date was given for the new housing projects, in settlements Israel has said it intends to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper put the number of planned homes at 500.

The World Court has deemed illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, territory captured along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

Some 500,000 settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians fear the enclaves will deny them a viable state.

Violence in the West Bank has dropped significantly since its peak during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.

(Reuters)

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