Obama and Bibi talk peace and security

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed peace and security issues a day after the State Department reprimanded Israel on new housing in Jerusalem.

"President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to consult on regional issues and efforts to achieve Middle East peace," a White House statement said Wednesday. "The Prime Minister expressed appreciation for U.S. support for Israel’s security, in particular the Iron Dome short-range rocket and mortar defense system. The two leaders agreed to continue to work closely together to address common security concerns."

The call came a day after the State Department criticized Israel over the approval of a new housing project in eastern Jerusalem.

"The United States is deeply concerned by continuing Israeli actions with respect to housing construction in Jerusalem," said a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

More than 900 housing units in Har Homa were given final approval last week by the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee. The plan was first submitted for approval two years ago. Approval of the project was delayed twice in recent months due to political considerations. Work likely will not begin for two years; the project still requires a contractor and infrastructure.

"We have raised this issue with the Israeli government and continue to make our position known," the statement said. "As we have said before, unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties."

Separately, Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said the United States will continue security cooperation with Israel "to even greater levels."

Shapiro made the pledge Tuesday as he toured a battery of Israel’s Iron Dome short-range missile defense system near the Gaza Strip.

"We are very proud to be involved in this project," Shapiro said in Hebrew in a video of his visit posted on the U.S. Embassy website. "We will continue our security cooperation to even greater levels."

Shapiro said Obama was committed to security cooperation, and noted Obama’s budgeting of $205 million to expand and improve the system.

Israel last week deployed the battery near the Gaza border in the wake of intensified rocket attacks from Gaza on the nation’s South.

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