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US 'dismay' at expansion of Israeli settlement in Jerusalem

The White House criticized Israel's decision to expand the Gilo settlement in East Jerusalem Tuesday. New settlement activity on West Bank land annexed to Jerusalem harms Middle East peace efforts, a spokesman said.

A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in Gilo, a Jewish settlement on land Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to its Jerusalem municipality, Tuesday.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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An unusually harsh White House statement on an Israeli settlement construction project suggests both a widening rift between the White House and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a deep freeze of the Obama administration's Mideast peace initiative.

The White House Tuesday lost no time in expressing its "dismay" at Israeli approval earlier in the day of a 900-unit expansion of the Gilo settlement in Jerusalem. The housing for Jewish residents would be built on West Bank land Israel occupied in 1967 and subsequently annexed to Jerusalem.

"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

The statement also said the US "objects" to other Israeli actions in Jerusalem "related to housing," including a pattern of evictions of Arab residents and demolitions of Palestinians homes. The administration had refrained from going public with its criticisms when tensions flared recently in East Jerusalem over Israeli practices. But Israel's disregard for US pressures on the Gilo project appeared to have prompted the administration's public blast.

President Obama's Mideast envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, asked Israeli officials in London Monday to halt the Gilo decision, according to diplomatic sources, but the decision went ahead anyway.

That latest White House effort and the uncharacteristically tough statement that followed indicated both the growing frustration with Israel and an administration picking the wrong battles, some Mideast experts say.


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