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Pro-Israel lobby calls on White House to ease tension with Tel Aviv

The most influential pro-Israel pressure group in the US, Aipac, has called on the Obama administration to "diffuse the tension" after senior US officials slammed new Israeli settlement construction in Jerusalem as "insulting".

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AFP - A major pro-Israel US lobby group warned Sunday that recent US administration remarks about bilateral ties with Israel were "of serious concern," and urged the White House to ease tension.

Remarks by President Barack Obama's administration "regarding the US relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern," said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement issued Sunday.

"AIPAC calls on the administration to take immediate steps to diffuse the tension with the Jewish State," it added.

The statement came amid diplomatic upheaval between Washington and Jerusalem after Israel announced new settlement construction as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the region to boost indirect peace talks.

Administration officials including Biden, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior Obama advisor David Axelrod have slammed the new construction and the timing of the announcement as insulting and destructive.

AIPAC, considered the most influential pro-Israel pressure group in the United States, has support across the political spectrum in Congress and routinely attracts senior US and Israeli political figures to its annual conference.

This year, both Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are due to address the conference, scheduled for March 21-23.

In their statement Sunday, AIPAC warned that "the escalated rhetoric of recent days" was distracting from "the urgent issue of Iran's rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors."

"The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests," AIPAC added.

In an attempt at damage control, Netanyahu has set up a committee to investigate the settlement announcement, allegedly made without his knowledge, and offered an apology for its timing.
 

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