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Israel Slammed Over New Settlement Construction

Construction cranes and excavators at the building sites of new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem
(RFE/RL) -- Israel's announcement of new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem has drawn a harsh rebuke from the international community.

Israel said on March 9 that it approved 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to build their future capital.

The "quartet" of Middle East peace mediators -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia -- condemned the move and said it would assess the situation at a previously scheduled meeting in Moscow next week.

The harshest words came from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who slammed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a lengthy telephone call on March 12.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on March 12 the top U.S. diplomat believed Israel was sending "a deeply negative signal" for both the Middle Peace process and ties with Washington.

Crowley said that Clinton reiterated the United States' strong objections to the announcement, "not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president's trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests."

Danger To Peace Talks

Clinton's stinging comments were an unusually strong rebuke from the United States for Israel, its traditional ally in the region.

U.S. officials say Israel's announcement of new settlement construction endangers the Obama administration's plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

They are also angry at the timing of Israel's announcement of new settlement construction, which came on the day U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem with hopes of reviving peace talks.

Clinton told CNN the announcement was "insulting."

State Department spokesman Crowley said the Israeli move was particularly bewildering considering Washington's consistent support for Israel over the years.

" And [Clinton] made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process," Crowley added.

Netanyahu has said he did not know the announcement was coming, adding that nothing would actually be built in the area for years.

But U.S. officials have made it clear they nonetheless held Netanyahu responsible for the controversial announcement.

Crowley said U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman had made numerous calls to regional leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, in a bid to keep the peace talks on track.

Mitchell is due to return to the region next week and U.S. officials hope the indirect talks might begin then.

The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership has threatened to pull out of U.S.-brokered peace process with Israel and have called the settlement announcement a deliberate attempt by Netanyahu to sabotage it.

with agency reports