After alleged reports that a Palestinian murdered five Israeli settlers, including a baby and two small children, in their beds Friday night, the Israeli government announced that 500 new units would be constructed on Palestinian land, as punishment for the attack.The new units were approved in the settlements of Gush Etzion, Kiryat Sefer and Ma’ale Adumim in the Bethlehem area. This is in addition to the 1400 new units approved last month for construction in East Jerusalem.

Although 500,000 Israelis have moved into colonial settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, these settlements are all considered illegal under international law. Collective punishment of a population in response to the actions of a few is also considered a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

An Israeli official with the Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs told reporters that the new units will be built in areas that will remain part of Israel in any peace deal with the Palestinians – although Palestinian officials said that the areas in question are part of Palestine. Israel has never defined its borders since its creation in 1948, and has expanded its territory onto Palestinian land through the use of force, particularly over the last two decades.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the construction approval, saying that it hinders peace efforts. The Palestinian Authority also issued a strong condemnation of the murder of the family in Itamar settlement Friday night, and told Israeli authorities that they would assist in efforts to track down the perpetrator.

The plan to construct 500 new units on Palestinian land as an act of punishment was approved by both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who participated in the meeting Saturday night where the decision was made.

US officials also questioned the decision to construct new settlement units, saying that the action runs counter to peace efforts by Israeli, Palestinian and US officials.