|A 10-month Israeli freeze on new settlement construction expired in September last year [Reuters]
The Israeli cabinet has approved the building of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a day after five members of a settlement family were killed.
The Israeli prime minister's office said the approval was a stern political message to Palestinians following the incident in a remote settlement over the weekend.
A statement from Binyamin Netanyahu's office said the ministerial team on settlements decided on Saturday night to approve the construction of several hundred units at Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel and Kyriat Sefer.
According to The Associated Press news agency, the prime minister's office said in a text message to reporters that the construction will be in major settlement blocs that Israel expects to hold on to in any final peace deal.
Netanyahu is expected to deliver a major policy speech soon, possibly proposing a Palestinian state within temporary borders as a way out of a longstanding negotiations impasse. But the Palestinians vehemently oppose such proposal, as it falls short of a contiguous Palestine state.
The knife attack on Friday killed two young children, a baby and their parents, and is reported to be the deadliest in years.
The Israeli military said suspects had been taken into custody but released no further details.
The attack and housing approval both come at a delicate time, with pressure building on Israel to launch a new peace initiative and the Palestinians pushing for international recognition of an independent state – with or without a peace deal.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Sunday condemned the "decision of the Israeli government to speed up and increase the building of settlements", said Saeb Erakat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator and senior PLO official.
"[The PA] strongly condemns the settler attacks against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and we ask the Quartet [the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia] to urgently intervene to stop the actions of the settlers," Erakat said.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, also denounced the move as "a mistake" which was likely to create "big problems".
"The decision taken to build new settlements is a mistake and unacceptable," he said in a statement.
"It will destroy everything and will lead to big problems."