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Israeli apology gets cool reception in Washington

JERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister expressed regret Sunday for a crisis with the United States over plans to expand a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, even as American officials played down the apology and called for bold Israeli action to get peace efforts back on track.

With tensions rising, Israel deployed hundreds of police around east Jerusalem's Old City and heavily restricted Palestinian access to the area — the scene of several recent clashes.

Israel's already strained relationship with the United States hit a new low last week when the Jewish state announced plans during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to build 1,600 homes for Israelis in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital.

The announcement embarrassed Biden, who quickly condemned the plan, and cast a shadow over upcoming U.S.-mediated peace talks.

In his first public comments on the matter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday that he was sorry about the diplomatic fiasco and had ordered an investigation into the incident. Netanyahu has claimed he had no prior knowledge. "There was a regrettable incident that was done in all innocence and was hurtful, and which certainly should not have occurred," Netanyahu said.

At the same time, he urged his Cabinet "not to get carried away and to calm down" and gave no sign he would scrap the settlement plan. "We will act according to the vital interests of the state of Israel," he said. The fate of east Jerusalem is the most explosive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war and considers the entire city its capital. Netanyahu has said he will never agree to share control of the holy city.

Middle East news

• Israel's government approved a plan to lure the country's top scientific minds back home after years of brain drain. Around $250 million have been earmarked for the project.

• Egypt, whose Supreme Council of Antiquities spent seven months restoring the ruined Ben Maimon synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter, canceled the inauguration, citing objections to Israel's treatment of Muslims in the occupied territories.

• Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect and one of Syria's harshest critics in Lebanon, says his earlier statements were "improper" and called for a new page in relations between the countries.

Israeli apology gets cool reception in Washington 03/14/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 14, 2010 9:59pm]
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