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Israel Faces International Pressure Over Settlements

Israel is facing international pressure over its settlement activity, with both the European Union and Russia saying such activity threatens the chance for Mideast peace.

The EU issued a statement Tuesday calling on Israel to stop what it called provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolition and evictions. The EU said such actions are illegal under international law.

Israeli authorities are planning to build some 20 new apartments in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Russia also weighed in on the issue, with a foreign ministry spokesman calling for an end to settlement construction in line with the roadmap for peace.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon responded to the criticism Tuesday, saying Israel has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem.

Israel has rejected repeated U.S. calls for a total halt to all settlement activity.

Tuesday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said such calls contradict past "oral understandings" between the two nations that permitted Israel to build within the construction lines of existing settlements.

Meridor also urged Palestinians to return to negotiations, despite their demand that talks not resume until settlement activity is stopped.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials say Jewish settlers cut down trees belonging to Palestinian farmers in the West Bank village of Burin Tuesday. Extremist settlers have vandalized Palestinian property in the past to protest Israel's removal of unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.

Also Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived in Brazil at the start of a 10-day Latin America tour that Israel says is aimed at countering Iran's growing influence in the region.

There was no immediate reaction from Israeli officials to a report in Israel's Haaretz newspaper which quoted Valter Pomar, a leading member of the country's ruling Workers party as calling Lieberman a "fascist" and a "racist."