Clashes erupt between Palestinians, Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, West Bank in response to Israel’s practices

Arabs call for quick international moves to deter Israel, stop Judaization projects

U.S.-Israeli relations never been worst

Netanyahu plans construction of 50,000 houses, Palestinians refuse to negotiation before settlement halted

Palestinians mounted violent protests in Jerusalem on Tuesday and President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy canceled plans to return to the region as a U.S.-Israeli crisis over Jewish settlement plans simmered.

Hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators clashed with police in several locations in East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan by Israel together with the adjacent West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets.

"We have come to throw stones because that's all we have and the situation in Jerusalem is dangerous," a protester said in a confrontation at an Israeli military checkpoint, reminiscent of the early days of the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.

Medical officials said at least 40 Palestinians were treated in hospitals in the most serious flare-up in the holy city in months. Police said 15 officers were hurt, one shot in the hand by an unidentified gunman. About 60 people were arrested.

The violence was another challenge to Obama's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, suspended since December 2008, which had looked set to resume in the form of indirect negotiations under U.S. mediation.

Israel angered Palestinians and touched off a feud with Washington by announcing plans, during a visit last week by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, to build 1,600 homes for Jews in a part of the occupied West Bank it had annexed to Jerusalem.

The dispute was described by Israel's ambassador in Washington as a crisis of historic proportions in traditionally close bilateral relations. Yet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who last week complained about Israel's "insulting" behavior, appeared to take a conciliatory tack on Tuesday.

"We have an absolute commitment to Israel's security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel," she told a news briefing in Washington.

She said both countries were committed to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, adding: "... We don't agree with any of our international partners on everything."

Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, canceled plans to return to the region on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not halt construction in what he termed Jerusalem neighborhoods, disputed areas filled with Israeli apartment blocs in and near the city's eastern sectors.

"I think we'll see what the next days hold and we're looking forward to Senator Mitchell returning to the region and beginning the proximity talks," Clinton said. She did not specify when Mitchell's trip might take place.

Officials in Washington said earlier they were waiting for Israel's formal response to demands from Clinton.

Israeli media said Clinton had asked for the construction plan to be scrapped and for Israel to agree to discuss statehood issues with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be their capital.

Netanyahu has voiced regret at the timing of the announcement but said there was consensus in Israel that homes for Jews should be built anywhere in Jerusalem, a city it considers its capital, a claim not recognized internationally.

"There is an explosive situation. There are Netanyahu's policies, which are tantamount to pouring oil on fire," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and preaches the Jewish state's destruction, said in a statement Palestinians should regard Tuesday as "a day of rage against the Occupation's procedures in Jerusalem against al-Aqsa mosque."

Hamas leaders referred to the renovation of the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's walled Old City, saying the work was an Israeli plot to demolish the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site about 400 meters away.

Israel has denied the allegation and the U.S. State Department, appealing for calm, expressed concern at what it described as Palestinian incitement.

About 500,000 Jews and 2.6 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians say settlements will deny them a viable state and Washington has warned both sides against moves that could prejudge the outcome of peace talks.

Palestinian refugees in the south protested on Tuesday against Israel’s decision to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue near Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem, and students from the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon marched to show their anger.

Israel reopened the twice-destroyed Hurva Synagogue on Monday, sparking a wave of criticism and protests, both in Palestine and among refugee communities abroad.

“Israel’s latest announcement to place the cornerstone for the Hurva Synagogue is a huge confrontation that will cause explosions and will aggravate the situation,” said the Fatah faction in Lebanon in a statement.

Students from United Nations Relief Works Agency schools held Palestinian flags and maps and shouted slogans expressing their anger toward Israel and its “theft” of occupied Jerusalem’s history.

They marched through the main street of Ain al-Hilweh holding banners with photographs of Jerusalem.

Palestinians from refugee camps near Tyre also protested the synagogue’s reconstruction while Hamas official Jihad Taha called on all Palestinian factions to unite in responding to “Israel’s arrogance.”

Sheikh Ahmad Mrad also delivered a speech on behalf of Hezbollah. He called on all Palestinians to unite and said the Resistance was the only way to liberate Palestine.

Israel made another controversial decision earlier this week when it announced its plan to build about 1,600 new Jewish settlers homes in the Arab sector of Jerusalem.

“Israel insists on its policy of Judaization and settlements. Its announcement to launch the construction of thousands of housing units is an insolence that even embarrassed the United States,” Fatah’s statement said.

The statement also criticized the absence of any real pressure from the international community and from the Security Council on Israel as well as the weak Arab and Islamic stance on the issue of Judaization.

“The Palestinian people in Lebanon are angered by the Arab and Islamic silence toward this issue. This silence is becoming a cover, whether we like it or not, for the domination of occupied Jerusalem,” it added.

Arabs across the Middle East are unconvinced the United States will stand up to Israel despite Washington's rare public outrage over plans to build new Jewish homes in a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.

The skepticism is eroding Arab hopes that U.S. President Barack Obama will push hard for a long-sought peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians to end a conflict that has fueled anti-U.S. sentiment in the region. America's dwindling credibility could also jeopardize another major Mideast goal - uniting the Arab world against Iran.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said Arab countries will be less likely to engage with the U.S. on issues such as Iran if they get nothing in return.

"A lot of the Arab countries already in the last year saw that there wasn't much delivery from the U.S. on the Israeli side," Salem told The Associated Press. "So why engage, why compromise, from their point of view?"

The United States has been working for more than a year to get Israel and the Palestinians negotiating again, and Washington strongly criticized Israel's plans, announced last week, to build 1,600 apartments in disputed east Jerusalem.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, and Palestinians claim the sector as a capital of a future state.

The building plan touched off the worst U.S.-Israeli diplomatic feud in decades.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the announcement an insult. U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who had hoped to wrap up preparations for re-launching Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, called off a visit to the region.

But Clinton was quick to soften her tone, saying there is "a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people."

Such rhetoric fuels Arab doubts that Washington will press its ally to make concessions widely seen as necessary for any final peace deal with the Palestinians.

During a speech in Cairo in June, Obama called for a complete settlement freeze and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But Arabs were disillusioned when his administration appeared to back down and accepted a partial 10-month freeze called by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last year.

Badei Musa, 55, a Palestinian engineer who lives in Dubai, said he does not trust America's stated opposition to the settlements.

"It's a joke," Musa said. "What's happening on the ground, that's what counts."

Jordanian political analyst Oreib Rentawi said Wednesday that Arabs do not believe there is true disagreement between the United States and its longtime ally, Israel.

"Arabs consider what is taking place now as a summer cloud or a storm in a tea cup," Oreib Rentawi told the AP.

In Egypt, a column in the Al-Gomhuria newspaper expressed doubt that Israel would face any repercussions for its actions.

"The extremist ruling clique (in Israel) knows well that they are outside the range of being punished by sanctions, economic or political boycott or even a threat to freeze aid," wrote Sameer Ragab.

Obama did get some vocal support from the Arab League. In Beirut, the group's secretary general, Amr Moussa, said Arabs should praise the U.S. president. "The man has in fact said the right things and tried hard," Moussa said.

Still, the mistrust has already hurt U.S. policy. U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations have rejected U.S. pressure to make diplomatic gestures to Israel to encourage it in the peace process, citing its hard line on settlements.

It could bleed over into other realms, such as U.S. attempt to isolate Iran, which Washington and its allies accuse of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the claims.

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia is a central player in Washington's efforts to build a front against Iran. In recent months, the kingdom has taken a tougher, more vocal tone against Tehran, reflecting its own fears over a possible Iranian nuclear program but also over mainly Shiite and non-Arab Iran's spreading influence in the Mideast and support for militant groups.

But Saudi Arabia may grow more reluctant to play such a public role if resentment over the United States grows because of peace process failures.

The latest tumult over Israel is not the first time Obama's overtures in the Arab world have fallen flat. Last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected U.S. calls to loosen his longtime alliance with Iran, even as Washington named the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005 and sent top diplomats to meet with Assad.

Maryam Abdul-Qadr, a 47-year-old Palestinian living in Dubai, said Arabs are still waiting for Obama to deliver on his promises.

"Obama promised a lot of things, but within this one and a half years there is nothing happening," she said. "Only talking."

Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the United States says relations between the U.S. and Israel face their worst crisis in 35 years, according to published reports Monday.

The ambassador, Michael Oren, reportedly made the comments to diplomatic staff over the weekend, Israeli newspapers reported.

U.S.-Israeli relations are being tested after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians are claiming as the site of their future capital. In Jerusalem, police were out on the street in the Old City in anticipation of possible clashes.

The announcement was made during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, and came just hours after he had highlighted the closeness in U.S.-Israel relations.

The U.S. has not revealed what they want Israel to do about the building plans, but an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. wants the construction project cancelled.

The Israeli government did not offer an official comment on Monday.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the building announcement, but he has not said if it will be scrapped.

George Mitchell, the U.S. government's Mideast envoy, is expected to be back in the region this week in an effort to smooth out relations and salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

On the other hand, Israel is planning tens of thousands of new housing units across Jerusalem al-Quds particularly focusing on the illegally annexed East al-Quds.

On Thursday, the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted planning officials as revealing plans for some 50,000 new homes in al-Quds neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.

The plans for nearly 20,000 of the apartments are already in advanced stages of approval and implementation, while plans for the rest are to be submitted to the planning committees, the paper detailed.

The new buildings include 1,600 homes in the ultra-Orthodox Ramat Shlomo settlement in East al-Quds which were approved on Tuesday.

The Tuesday approval coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with Israeli officials aimed at facilitating indirect talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Observers have expressed fears that the hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration is sabotaging the prospects of peace with Palestinians "beyond the point of no return."

The plans for new construction are in contrast with Israel's announcement of a temporary, partial freeze on its settlement construction plans which excludes projects already in the pipeline and also those in al-Quds. The 10-month moratorium allows synagogues, schools, hospitals and other so-called community centers to be built.

Announced in November, the pause is widely viewed more of a tactical ploy — as confirmed by Israeli officials as well — than a real gesture to the Palestinians.

East al-Quds — which hosts some of the holiest sites of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, including the al-Aqsa Mosque — was occupied by the Israeli army during the six-day war in 1967.

Israel later annexed the Palestinian neighborhood in a move never recognized by the international community.