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Israel to construct new housing in Hebron settlement after killing of teenage resident

July 2, 2016 11:34 P.M. (Updated: July 3, 2016 5:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government reportedly approved on Friday the construction of new housing units in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, after a Palestinian boy stabbed an Israeli girl to death in her bedroom in the settlement Thursday.

Sources from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli newspaper Haaretz Saturday evening that Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have approved the construction of 42 new housing units in the settlement.

In response to the attack, Israeli Education Minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Home Party Naftali Bennett said he would propose already-approved plans to build new residential and industrial areas in Kiryat Arba during an emergency security cabinet scheduled to take place Saturday night, in addition to a series of other punitive measures against Palestinian civilians.

The bidding process for the construction tender of the new housing units was reportedly reopened after it had been left frozen a year and a half ago when no contractors applied.

Sources from the Israeli prime minister's office also told Haaretz that Israeli leadership have decided to set up a graveyard for Palestinians killed while allegedly carrying out or attempting to carry out attacks on Israelis.

Israel has come under repeated criticism for withholding bodies of Palestinians slain by Israeli forces for months on end, and the reported decision to set up a graveyard was made to avoid having to return the bodies to their families altogether.

Israeli authorities dramatically escalated its policy of withholding Palestinian bodies since a wave of unrest erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October, having repeatedly claimed that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.

Following a period of relative calm over recent months that also saw Israel gradually rescind its practice of holding bodies, three Palestinians were killed in a series of deadly incidents in just two days.

The Palestinian responsible for killing 13-year-old Hallel Yafa Ariel on Thursday in Kiryat Arba was shot dead on the scene, and hours later a Palestinian was killed while allegedly carrying out an attack in the Israeli city of Netanya in which two Israelis were wounded.

On Friday, a Palestinian woman was also shot dead while allegedly attempting to stab Israeli soldiers in Hebron, with no Israeli injuries. Later that day, an Israeli settler from the Otniel settlement in Hebron near Kiryat Arba was shot dead in his car. The gunman was still at large as of Saturday evening.

During a Friday condolence call to Hallel’s family, Netanyahu also promised to "strengthen" Kiryat Arba, ahead of approving the construction of new housing units in the settlement, where tensions remain high between Palestinians and the hundreds of Israeli settlers encroaching further into Palestinian territory.

During his interview with Haaretz following the attack, Minister Bennett also advocated for scores of impending demolitions to be carried out on Palestinian property to make room for the expansion of settlement building in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

Meanwhile, at Hallel’s funeral, Bennett reiterated his commitment to illegal settlement building, stating that “we will build, in Sarona and Kiryat Arba, in Jaffa and Jerusalem, in Itamar and Beersheba,” -- citing several locations in the West Bank and Israel which have experienced Palestinian attacks amid an environment of increasingly hostile Israeli settlers.

Ultra-right Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel from the Home Party also attended the funeral, with Israeli media reporting that the minister called for the expansion of Israeli sovereignty over the entire “Land of Israel,” including the occupied West Bank.

“We swore today to build more. We always have to build, but today even more so,” he was quoted by Israeli media as saying.

“The time has come for full sovereignty, with a stress on Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria [West Bank],” repeating a proposal drafted by Ayelet Shaked, also from the Home Party, to expand domestic Israeli law to the illegal settlements in the West Bank by the end of the year -- in a move critics have said would amount to a de facto annexation of the territory.

Israel’s response to attacks on Israelis -- such as punitive home demolitions, settlement expansion, the sealing of entire Palestinian villages, and withholding the bodies of slain Palestinians -- have been condemned by rights groups, who have said the measures amount to “collective punishment” and represent a clear violation of international law.

Meanwhile, Israel's settlement expansion has been deemed a main impediment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Middle East Quartet reiterated their condemnation for Israel's settlement construction in a report released Friday.

Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now said in a statement that the report showcased the contradictions of Netanyahu’s policies of settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian territory with his public support for a two-state solution during peace negotiations.

“If the Israeli government is interested in peace it must halt settlement expansion immediately. Otherwise, it must reveal its true intentions and face the consequences,” the statement read.
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