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Israel announces mass settlement expansion

March 13, 2011 9:45 A.M. (Updated: March 15, 2011 10:14 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- 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.

The move was immediately slammed by the Palestinian Authority. Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina said the decision was "unacceptable and wrong," in a statement. He told the official PA news agency Wafa, "the atmosphere this decision creates isn't helpful, it creates problems, and peace needs courageous decisions."

Some 500 new Jewish-only housing units have been approved in the Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer settlements, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

The ministerial committee for settlements met Saturday night to okay the construction, reports said.

According to Hebrew-language daily Ma'ariv, Netanyahu asked his Defense Minister Ehud Barak to approve the bids. Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon was said to have joined the meeting along with Israeli military intelligence chief Amir Kochavi and Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin.

Palestinian negotiators have said that peace talks cannot resume until Israel stops illegal settlement construction in the West Bank.

The decision to build was taken less than 24 hours after a family of five Israeli settlers were brutally stabbed to death in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar. The victims were a three-month-old baby, Hadas, a toddler, 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.

On Sunday, Abu Rdeina warned of the repercussions of the settlement construction decision, saying it could "ruin everything, and could lead to uncontrollable problems."

Although there is not yet conclusive evidence that Palestinians are responsible for the Saturday attack on the settler family, Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of "daily incitement" against Israel in his response to the deaths.

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 on 26 September 2010 when Israel refused to extend a temporary, partial freeze on settlement construction.

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."

AFP contributed to this report
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