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U.S. criticizes Israeli settlement expansion

From NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Sue Kroll
Despite Hillary Clinton's recent praise for what she called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's "unprecedented" steps on the controversial issue of settlements, the traveling White House has issued a very tough statement slamming Israel for further expansion of settlements in Arab East Jerusalem.

Issued just now under White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' name, the statement reads:

We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee's decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem. At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. Our position is clear: the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Tuesday that the Israeli plan to expand the Gilo settlement in East Jerusalem is "dismaying."

According to news reports, Israeli officials set forth a plan on Tuesday to build 900 more housing units in a Jewish neighborhood that had been claimed by Palestinians.

A senior State Department official said, "We were concerned they were going to move forward on this."

The U.S. has also objected to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem including the continuing eviction and demolition of Palestinian homes. 

"These kinds of unilateral actions are exactly the kind of actions that we think that both sides should refrain from at a time when we're trying to start the negotiations again," Kelly said.

Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell and other State Department officials continue to try to get the two parties back to the negotiating table. Just yesterday Mitchell was in London meeting  Israeli negotiators. No word on if there was in progress.