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U.S. Slams Israel Housing Construction Plan

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The Obama Administration on Wednesday condemned Israel's announcement that it was going forward with the construction of 2,500 new housing units in heavily Arab east Jerusalem.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision will only "poison" the atmosphere with the Palestinians and will draw condemnation from the international community.

The new project is contentious because it would complete a band of Jewish areas that separate Jerusalem from nearby Bethlehem. The U.S. has repeatedly criticized Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, saying it is damaging to efforts to secure an elusive peace accord with the Palestinians.

"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations, and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians," Psaki said at a briefing.

Appearing before reporters earlier Wednesday, Obama and Netanyahu showed little of that anger. Sitting alongside Netanyahu, Obama said leaders must "find ways to change the status quo so that both Israel citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools, from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don't have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well."

More than 2,100 Palestinians — most of them civilians — and more than 70 Israelis were killed during the 50-day war in Gaza this summer.

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— with Abigail Williams and the Associated Press

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