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Clinton call to Netanyahu: Israel settlement move a 'deeply negative signal'

Underscoring tensions over the Israel settlement issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly criticized an ill-timed announcement of 1,600 new housing units in a call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Correspondent / March 12, 2010

Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinians pray on the street in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud Friday, in a protest over Israel settlement expansion.

Darren Whiteside/REUTERS

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Tel Aviv, Israel

A day after Vice President Joe Biden ended a fence-mending trip marred by the Israel settlement issue, tension hung over the embattled city of Jerusalem both in the streets and in government offices.

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Israeli police in the capital went on high alert for violent demonstrations after Friday prayers in East Jerusalem – and the military enforced a total closure on Palestinians in the West Bank. Claimed by Palestinians as their future capital, it is increasingly emerging as the front line between competing Israeli and Palestinian visions for statehood.

Later Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a telephone call from a "frustrated'' Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who reiterated America's displeasure over the surprise announcement of a 1,600 home development project in East Jerusalem, a move that upended Mr. Biden's visit.

In what was reportedly a 43-minute conversation, Clinton "[made] clear the United States considered 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," said State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley.

"The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security," added Mr. Crowley.

50,000 housing units reportedly under way

Control over the city was once considered the final and ultimate dispute for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. But in recent weeks, it has been brought front and center by weekly rioting, demonstrations, and plans for new building projects.

The intensification of the dispute over the city holy to three religions jeopardizes last weekend's agreement to restart peace talks – the first in more than a year. In recent days, the Palestinians have called on the US to force Israel to drop the building project.

"If Israel will continue business as usual with settlements, and the Americans are not in a position to do anything in this regard, that's something that the Palestinian leadership has difficulty living with,'' said government spokesman Ghassan Khatib.

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