Israel on Sunday announced massive expansions to illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, a day after a five Israelis were killed in a brutal attack in Itamar settlement.
Some 500 new housing units have been approved in Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
The ministerial committee for settlements met Saturday night to okay the construction.
According to Hebrew-language daily Ma’ariv, Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to approve the bids. Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon joined the meeting along with Israeli military intelligence chief Amir Kochavi and Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, the report said.
The decision was taken less than 24 hours after a family of five Israelis were brutally stabbed to death in Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank district of Nablus. The victims included a three-month-old Hadas, Elad, 4, Yoav, 11 and their parents Udi and Ruthie who were both in their 30s.
President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad strongly condemned the murders.
Although there is not yet conclusive evidence that Palestinians are responsible for the attack, Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of “daily incitement” against Israel in his response to the murders.
A shadowy group calling itself the “Imad Mughniyya Group” claimed responsibility for the killings, but Israeli authorities have dismissed statements from the group in the past as it has claimed other operations that may have been the work of others. It is believed to be linked to Fatah.
No other faction has yet claimed responsibility.
According to Ma’ariv, Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of his decision to expand illegal settlements when she telephoned him to condemn the attack.
The international community recognizes that settlement construction on occupied land is illegal under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The last round of negotiations collapsed over Israel’s refusal to stop building Jewish-only housing on Palestinian land.
Palestinians recently took the issue to the UN Security Council, seeking a resolution to condemn the building. The resolution was sponsored by some 130 countries. Fourteen of the 15 members of the council supported the motion, but the US used its veto to quash the resolution.
However, US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the veto did not signify Washington’s support for settlements.
“We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she told the Council.
Amnesty International condemned Washington’s veto, and said it was “concerned that the Israeli government will interpret this US veto as a ‘green light’ for these plans and conclude that it can escape meaningful international censure.”