Israel approves settlement construction in West Bank

JERUSALEM, March 13  (AP):  Israel said Sunday 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 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. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under domestic pressure to respond harshly to the killings, is a member of that team.
Between 300 and 500 apartments and homes were approved for construction, said a government official speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release this information to the media
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.
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 approvals on hundreds of other homes, to the settlers' chagrin.