ITAMAR SETTLEMENT, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Five members of an Israeli family including a baby were murdered in their beds in a West Bank settlement in an attack blamed on Palestinians, sparking a huge manhunt and international condemnation on Saturday.
Media reports said a baby girl of three months, two children aged three and 11, and their parents Ehud and Ruth Vogel were all stabbed to death in the Friday night attack in Itamar near the Palestinian town of Nablus.
Army radio said two other children had been spared and a third, a girl of 10, had arrived home late and alerted neighbours that something was wrong.
"It was one in the morning when their daughter Tamar came to ask me to go home with her. She was worried because there was no answer when she knocked on the door which was locked," said Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, who found the bodies.
The radio said the killer or killers had managed to get past an electric fence surrounding the settlement, which was targeted in a 2002 attack by Palestinian assailants when a woman and three children were killed.
In front of the Vogel home, settlers lit candles on Saturday night in memory of their slain neighbours.
Rabbi Avichai Ronski, spokesman for the settlement which is home to 800 Jews, was defiant after the attack. "Our response to this crime is not to seek revenge but to carry on with construction" of more Jewish homes.
The army, meanwhile, set up new checkpoints in the Nablus area and deployed in force in the Palestinian village of Awarta near Itamar. Soldiers questioned residents during house-to-house searches, Palestinian security sources said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the authorities would do everything possible to protect Israelis and demanded Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas punish those responsible for the murders.
The premier also urged Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) to "halt incitement in mosques and in the media under its control."
He said he expected an "unambiguous denunciation of the murder of babies" from the international community and called on countries that "run to the UN to condemn planned Israeli building" to condemn the knife attack in the same way.
Later the premier said on state television that "terrorism will not dictate" the policy of settlements in the West Bank.
Abbas condemned the attack, while reaffirming the need to reach a just and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I denounce all violence against civilians, whatever the motive," he said.
In a telephone call, Abbas personally expressed his regrets to Netanyahu, the Israeli leader's office said.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad also denounced the attacks. "We clearly and firmly condemn all forms of violence, and I condemn what happened last night in Itamar, just as I condemn the crimes against Palestinians."
Netanyahu said the PA condemnation was "weak and ambiguous" but urged settlers to show restraint and not to take justice into their hands.
Amid a chorus of condemnation from the international community, including the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, the White House said: "There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Brigades, the armed wing of the hardline Islamic Jihad, condoned the attack as an act of resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Tensions between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the Nablus area have been high this week. On Monday, Israeli soldiers fired live rounds at Palestinians after they fought with settlers