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Palestinian laborer at construction site in West Bank settlement of Shilo

AP reports about Israel's preliminary approval to build new homes in the West Bank: the timing of the move may further hinder already troubled Mideast peace efforts. It casts a shadow over a trip by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington in March, in which he is expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program and other regional issues.

The U.N.'s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, called the Israeli announcement "deplorable" and said it "moves us further away from the goal of a two-state solution."

Speaking to reporters, State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to comment about the announcement, but said the U.S. policy on settlement activity is clear. "We don't believe it's in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table. And we want to see clearly a comprehensive settlement that delineates borders and resolves many of these issues."