White House keeps mum on Israeli settlements

The mountainous area of Aqraba, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, shows the Jewish settlement Maale Efrayim (AFP Photo/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
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Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump's administration refused to be drawn Tuesday on whether he backs Israel's decision to approve 2,500 new settler homes in the West Bank.

Earlier, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave the green light to the huge new settlement expansion on Palestinian land.

The previous US administration, under Barack Obama, had viewed such building as "illegitimate" and in recent months warned that settlements could derail hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.

But spokesman Sean Spicer, at his second White House press briefing since the new president was sworn in on Friday, declined to give a view on Israel's decision.

"Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States," Spicer said, when asked about Trump's perspective on the Israeli plan to further expand settlements.

"He wants to grow closer to Israel to make sure it gets the full respect in the Middle East," he continued. "We'll have a conversation with the prime minister."

Trump's choice for secretary of state, former oil executive Rex Tillerson, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate and State Department officials had no comment on the settlements.

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