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US Offers Rare Criticism of Israel Over Settlement Plan

27 December 2006

The United States has criticized Israeli plans to construct a new settlement in the occupied West Bank.

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said establishment of a new settlement or expansion of existing settlements would violate Israel's obligations under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The spokesman called on Israel to meet its road map obligations and avoid taking steps that could be viewed as predetermining the outcome of future negotiations.

Tuesday, Israeli officials said construction is scheduled to begin within weeks for the settlement in the Jordan Valley, north of Jerusalem. The settlement will house former Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Israel has decided to renew attacks against Palestinians launching rockets from the Gaza Strip, while maintaining a month-long Gaza ceasefire.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said defense forces will "take pinpoint action against rocket-launching squads."

Palestinians warned that Israel's decision will lead to an escalation of violence.

Israel says Palestinian militants have fired more than 60 rockets since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a Gaza ceasefire late last month.

In other news Wednesday, Egypt's foreign minister says a kidnapped Israeli soldier is alive. Ahmed Abul Gheit, on a visit to Israel, was speaking about Corporal Gilad Shalit, abducted by Palestinian militants in June.

Egypt has been mediating between Israel and Palestinian militants to secure the soldier's release. The militants have demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

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

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