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Washington (AFP) – The United States expressed surprise and concern Tuesday over a report that Israel is planning to build 20,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

“We are deeply concerned by this latest report,” said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki. “We were surprised by this announcement and are currently seeking further explanation from the government of Israel.”

Psaki emphasized that Washington had not been briefed in advance by Israel about the settlement project.

She repeated the long-standing U.S. diplomatic position on settlements — a position reaffirmed last week during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Mideast — that “we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”

Psaki said the United States has “called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations,” which, with Kerry’s mediation, re-launched in July.

The plans by the Israeli housing minister for a “record” 20,000 new settler homes, revealed by an Israeli watchdog, threaten the already faltering peace talks.

During his visit to the Mideast last week, Kerry rejected statements from Israeli leaders that the settlement announcements were in keeping with tacit “understandings” between the two sides linked to the release of 52 veteran Palestinian prisoners since August.

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