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Israel Approves New Construction in West Bank Settlements

Israel approved construction of several hundred homes in Jewish settlements after the killing of five members of an Israeli family living in the West Bank.

The building, the largest number of homes approved at one time in more than a year, was slated for large West Bank settlements, including Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion near Jerusalem and Ariel outlying Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Jewish settler leader Danny Dayan called the government decision “a small step in the right direction.” Peace Now, a group that monitors settlement construction, said it “plays into the hands of extremists.”

The violence, the first fatal attack since August 2010, came as the Middle East Quartet -- the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- sent envoys to try and get Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks that stalled in September. Negotiations halted when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial 10-month construction freeze in the West Bank settlements and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he wouldn’t continue talks unless the building was halted.

“Chances of peace are definitely hindered by the Israeli decisions to erect more settlements,” Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said by phone. “We have been saying that without serious pressure from the outside, Israel will continue with this.”

Peace Proposal

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the construction was inside areas that “every serious peace proposal put on the table in the last 20 years” included as part of Israel.

The White House and the UN condemned the attack. The UN in a statement urged “all to act with restraint.” Tony Blair, the Quartet’s representative, called the killings “shocking and deplorable.” The Quartet said that attacks on civilians are “completely unacceptable” and “emphasized the need to expedite efforts” to achieve peace.

Soldiers were still searching for one or more assailants who stabbed the Israeli parents and three of their children to death around midnight between March 11 and March 12, an army spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously according to regulation. She declined to say how many arrests had been made.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank overnight stoned Palestinian cars in two separate locations and burned a vehicle in the city of Hebron, an army spokeswoman said. There were no injuries or damages from the stoning, she said, speaking anonymously by regulation.

Responsibility Claim

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the killings in Itamar, a settlement of about 1,000 residents founded in 1984 about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Tel Aviv. It called the violence “the natural response to the massacres of the fascist occupation against our people.”

Israeli ministers started talking earlier this month about a possible new initiative to restart talks with the Palestinians that would include an interim settlement, in part in response to international pressure. After the attack, Israel may demand more action from Palestinian security forces, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“The government of Israel may also feel able to resist pressure in a way that was difficult when things were very quiet in the West Bank,” Spyer said by phone.

Stop Attacks

Netanyahu, in a phone call with Abbas yesterday, urged him to take action against anti-Israeli incitement in territories under his control. Abraham Dicter, a lawmaker from the Kadima opposition party and former head of the Shin Bet or General Security Services, said on Army Radio that the Palestinians were not making sufficient efforts to stop attacks against Israel.

Yariv Oppenheimer, a Peace Now spokesman, said the last major construction approval by Netanyahu’s government was before the freeze went into effect. At that time, the government approved 200 new units, he said. An Israeli official, speaking anonymously as he was not authorized to speak to the press on the matter, said the number of homes approved was between 300 and 500.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, construction started on 541 new West Bank homes in 2010 as compared with 1,946 begun in 2009, while 1,492 were completed, down from 2,071 in the previous period.

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