White House "dismayed" at Jerusalem settlement expansion

A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in Gilo, a Jewish settlement on land Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to its Jerusalem municipality, November 17, 2009. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday that it was “dismayed” over Israeli approval to expand the Gilo settlement in Jerusalem and sharply criticized the ongoing evictions and demolition of Palestinian homes.

“At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Israel to curb settlement expansion as a gesture of goodwill to Palestinians in an effort to restart the peace process.

Israel on Tuesday approved the building of 900 homes for Jews on West Bank land it occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed to its Jerusalem municipality.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, had asked an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in London on Monday to block the proposed construction at the settlement of Gilo.

A U.S. official confirmed the report.

But an Israeli government planning commission approved the addition of 900 housing units at Gilo, where 40,000 Israelis already live.

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement.

“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,” he said.

Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Jackie Frank