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Israel defies US settlement calls

ISRAEL defied a surprisingly blunt demand from the United States that it freeze all building in West Bank Jewish settlements, saying yesterday it will press ahead with construction.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama wants Israel to halt to all settlement construction - including "natural growth." She was referring to Israel's insistence that new construction is necessary to accommodate the expansion of families already living in existing settlements.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev responded by saying "normal life in those communities must be allowed to continue." He confirmed this meant some construction will continue in settlements.

The conflict with Washington came on the day Obama was to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Abbas said settlements will be at the top of his agenda in the talks.

Obama's administration has been more explicit in its criticism of Israeli settlement policy than its predecessor. The US and much of the world consider the settlements an obstacle to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

More than 280,000 Jewish settlers live among more than 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Regev said the fate of existing settlements will be determined in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He said Israel has pledged to build no new settlements and to remove unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.


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