By AMY TEIBEL
The Associated Press
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 3:08 AM
JERUSALEM -- Israel has approved the construction of hundreds of settler homes in the West Bank, the prime minister's office said Sunday in a stern political message to the Palestinians after three children and their parents were murdered in a remote settlement over the weekend.
Israeli officials suspect Palestinian militants carried out the deadly attack, which could cool any Israeli plans to propose a new peace initiative. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been 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.
The construction, approved Saturday night by the Cabinet's ministerial team on settlements, would take place in major 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. Netanyahu is a member of that team.
It was not clear how many hundreds of housing units were at issue or whether the plans to build them were already in the pipeline.
The knife attack Friday killed two young children, a baby and their parents. It was the deadliest attack in years, and Israeli security forces were on alert Sunday for possible settler retaliation against Palestinians. The general security level around the country was raised, with a special emphasis on the West Bank and Jerusalem, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The military said suspects had been taken into custody but would give no details.