Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Israel approves settlement construction

AP, JERUSALEM

Israel said yesterday it has approved hundreds of settler homes after five members of an Israeli family — including three children — were knifed to death as they slept in a West Bank settlement over the weekend.

The attack and the government’s response threatened to drive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking even further out of reach. Israel, which blames the attack on Palestinian militants, is liable to set aside an emerging peace initiative it had planned to propose, while the planned construction of new settler homes only deepened Palestinian mistrust of Israel.

The settlement construction, approved on Saturday night by the Cabinet’s ministerial team on settlements, would take place in major West Bank settlement blocs that Israel expects to hold on to in any final peace deal, the prime minister’s office said in a text message to reporters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under domestic pressure to respond harshly to the killings, is a member of that team.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information to the media, said between 300 and 500 apartments and homes were approved for construction.

Palestinian opposition to settlement construction on lands they want for a future state has brought negotiations to a virtual standstill over the past two years, with Palestinians refusing to negotiate directly with Israel as long as it persists.

“We condemn this act of accelerated settlement construction,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said. “We urge the international community to intervene and implement the two-state solution. This is the only way out of this vicious circle of violence and counter-violence.”

Settler leader Dani Dayan called the government’s move “a very small step in the right direction.”

Although ground has been broken on as many as 500 apartments and homes since an Israeli moratorium on new West Bank settlement construction expired in late September, the government is holding up approval on hundreds of other homes, to the settlers’ chagrin.

The attack on Friday night in Itamar, home to some of Israel’s most radical settlers, was the deadliest against Israelis in years, and security forces were on alert yesterday for possible settler retaliation against Palestinians. The general security level around the country was raised, with an emphasis on the West Bank and Jerusalem, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

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