By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 5:01 PM
JERUSALEM - Israeli troops fanned out into Palestinian villages Saturday to search for the killers of five family members stabbed to death in a Jewish settlement as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Palestinians to end what he described as incitement that encourages attacks.
Sometime late Friday into early Saturday, a husband, wife and three of their young children, including an infant, were knifed to death in their beds in Itamar, a settlement of religiously observant Jews in the northern part of the West Bank. Two other children who were asleep in the house were not harmed.
The attack drew condemnation from across the Israeli political spectrum, including from some within Netanyahu's Likud party, who blamed Israel's easing of checkpoints in the West Bank, and others who said the attack proved that Israel had no partner for peace talks.
The White House, in a statement issued by the press secretary, condemned the attack and said there "is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "stressed his rejection and condemnation of all violence directed against civilians, regardless of who was behind it or the reason for it." Abbas also called Netanyahu to express sadness over the killings.
An Israeli military regional brigade commander, Nimrod Aloni, told reporters that Israeli troops were deployed Saturday to prevent friction between Jews and Palestinians, which could inflame already high tensions in the area after the killings.
In a televised address to the nation Saturday night, Netanyahu urged Israelis to act with "restraint" and to let the Israeli army do its work.
Addressing the Palestinians, he said, "the future of the settlements will not be decided upon by terror."
U.S.-brokered negotiations concerning the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian statehood have ground to a halt amid disagreements over settlement construction and other disputes. In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority has taken steps toward a possible unilateral declaration of statehood, and Israeli officials have floated the possibility of trying to negotiate an interim peace accord after nearly 18 years of failed talks.
In August, four Jewish settlers were killed in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank. But since then, a relative calm had prevailed in the area as Palestinian security forces asserted greater control over the territories where Israel allows them to operate and as Israeli and Palestinian forces coordinate security efforts.