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High alert as settlers commend new building

March 13, 2011 2:38 P.M. (Updated: March 14, 2011 1:46 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli police were on high alert on Sunday for fear of revenge attacks after the brutal stabbing of five settlers, including a three-month-old baby, killed in their beds at the weekend.

The Friday night attack, which saw three children and their parents murdered in a frenzied assault in their home in Itamar settlement near Nablus, sparked shock and anger in Israel, and prompted the government to approve the construction of hundreds of new settler homes.

"We have raised our level of alert in order to be ready for any disturbances on Sunday, the day in which the victims will be buried in Jerusalem," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

An army spokesman said troops deployed throughout the West Bank had also been ordered "to be vigilant" for any attempted attacks in revenge for the grisly killings, pictures of which were widely circulated by the settler leadership.

The family were laid to rest on Sunday afternoon, as thousands of shocked and angry mourners flocked to Jerusalem for the funerals.

Ahead of the burial, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ministers had approved construction of "several hundred housing units within the settlement blocs" of Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer.

All four are among the biggest settlement blocs in the West Bank.

The move was welcomed by the Yesha settlers' council, but prompted an angry denunciation from the Palestinian Authority.

"This decision by the government is a small step in the right direction," a Yesha statement said.

"It is deeply troubling that it requires the murder of children in the arms of their parents to achieve such an objective," it said.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat lashed out, telling AFP the Palestinian Authority "strongly condemns the decision of the Israeli government to speed up and increase the building of settlements."

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry also expressed concern over the announcement.

Speaking with Ma'an, Serry's spokesman Richard Miron said the official was "concerned after seeing media reports announcing 500 new housing units in the occupied West Bank. Settlement activity is illegal and such a decision is not conducive to efforts to resume negotiations and achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace."

The decision was taken by ministers late on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Itamar stabbing in which five members of the Fogel family were killed: three-month-old Hadas, four-year-old Elad, Yoav, 11, and their parents Udi and Ruthie.

Grisly pictures from the scene released by the settler leadership on Sunday showed the victims lying on blood-spattered beds, each one with multiple stab wounds.

Overnight, Palestinian witnesses reported a series of confrontations with angry settlers in and around the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

In Burin, five kilometers west of Itamar, locals said settlers had entered the village overnight, throwing stones and setting fire to one of the houses there.

Israeli troops quickly arrived at the scene and sent the settlers away, declaring the village a closed military zone, they said.

Troops were still operating in the nearby village of Awarta, which lies immediately west of Itamar, where they had arrested 20 people on Saturday after conducting house-to-house searches, Palestinian security sources said.

In the southern West Bank, witnesses said settlers had thrown stones at cars and houses in and around the southern city of Hebron, smashing the windshields of at least four cars, and had also stoned a fire engine in the southern town of Yatta.

Israel troops also clashed with Palestinians after they dispersed a group of settlers lobbing stones in Beit Ummar near Hebron.

The Nablus area is known for the ongoing friction between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents, with tensions often disintegrating into clashes with rocks or even gunfire.

Netanyahu on Saturday expressed "deep outrage" over the Itamar attack but also called for restraint.

"Despite all the awful pain, I call upon all Israelis to act responsibly, with restraint, and not to take the law into their own hands," the Israeli premier said.
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