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Israeli PM Rejects US Demand on Settlement Construction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government will not order a halt to the building of homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem - rejecting a request by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mr. Netanyahu made the comments Thursday, telling Israel's Channel 2 TV that "everyone knows" Israel would not agree to freeze construction.

He also said that despite differences with the United States on East Jerusalem, the relationship between the two countries remains strong.

The Israeli prime minister spoke shortly after U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region for talks aimed at restarting peace negotiations.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as part of their capitals. The Palestinians say construction of Jewish homes in the city's occupied eastern sector must stop before they will resume talks.

Washington has been trying to get both sides back to the negotiating table, and was angered by Israel's announcement of plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem during a recent visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Israeli officials say Mr. Netanyahu's decision not to freeze construction was conveyed to President Obama last week. But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he hopes the special U.S. envoy can get Mr. Netanyahu to change his decision.

Mr. Netanyahu has argued his stance on settlement building reflects long-standing Israeli policy

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.