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Israel PM defends building in E. Jerusalem

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision to expand construction in east Jerusalem Wednesday, saying it was Israel's "right" and "duty" to build in all parts of its capital.

Late Tuesday, Netanyahu's office said 2,000 new apartments would be built in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem. Officials said the move was an Israeli response to recent unilateral steps by the Palestinians, particularly its acceptance in UNESCO, the UN cultural agency. The Palestinians, Britain and the European Union condemned the decision to accelerate construction.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration was "deeply disappointed."

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, and subsequently annexed east Jerusalem, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, in a move that has not been recognized internationally. Palestinians claim that section of the city as their future capital.

Speaking at a special parliamentary session, Netanyahu pledged to keep building in Jerusalem and said the city has never been a capital to any other people.

"We are building in Jerusalem because it is our right and our duty to this generation and future generations, not as punishment but as the basic right of our people to build in its eternal city," he said. "Jerusalem will never return to the state it was in on the eve of the [1967] Six-Day War, that I promise you."

The projects announced by Netanyahu were not new, but he ordered them accelerated.

The Palestinians demand an end to all construction in Israeli settlements before peace talks can resume. Israel rejects that as a precondition, insisting that the issue of settlements will be resolved when borders are defined through negotiations.

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