Middle East

Israel approves new Jewish settler homes in West Bank

Neighbours mourn outside the Fogel family home
Neighbours mourn outside the Fogel family home, where a couple and three children were killed

Israel has approved the construction of hundreds of homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Officials said the decision was agreed by a ministerial committee on Saturday.

The announcement comes a day after the murder of five members of a family in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

An Israeli government official said the construction would take place in settlements that Israel expects to retain control of in any possible peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials condemned the move.

"This decision is wrong and unacceptable and will only create problems," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

A manhunt is continuing in the West Bank after five members of a Jewish settler family - including two children and a baby - were stabbed to death as they slept on Friday night.

Army radio reported that two other children were not killed, while a third had discovered the killings when she arrived home.

The attack on the Fogel family has been met with outrage in Israel and has shocked many Palestinians. Israel suspects the attack was carried out by Palestinian militants.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "despicable" act.

An Israeli government spokesman said the construction move had been planned for some time but the BBC's Jon Donnison in Ramallah says it's hard not to see the timing of the announcement as linked to the killings.

The latest development comes as peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians have ground to a halt.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled last year over the issue of Israeli settlement building.

Palestinians have refused all direct contact with Israel until construction is frozen.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

They are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.