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JERUSALEM, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Israeli leaders approved a 900-unit expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, drawing a sharp rebuke from their U.S. counterparts.

An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday told Haaretz the expansion represented "a routine process" and added that the section involved, known as Gilo, was "an integral part of Jerusalem."

The Obama administration has joined Palestinians in calling for a halt to additional Jewish settlements in disputed areas, requests the Israeli leadership has ignored.

In response to Tuesday's announcement, the White House said such actions would make the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians "more difficult."

U.S. President Barack Obama, asked about the settlements during an interview with Fox News, said the settlement expansion doesn't make Israel any safer and may cause feelings among Palestinians that could be dangerous.

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Israeli special forces guard Palestinians watching the demolition of a Palestinian building by the Jerusalem Municipality in Issawiyeh, an Arab neighborhood, in east Jerusalem, November 18, 2009. Israel is facing harsh criticism from Washington, Europe and the UN after approving a plan to build 900 new housing units in the southeast settlement of Gilo in Jerusalem. UPI/Debbie Hill
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