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State Department calls Israeli settlement reports 'provocative'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. State Department on Tuesday used the word "provocative" to address reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to increase state support for Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon plans to ask his Cabinet for an additional $362 million to beef up security and infrastructure for the settlements, according to Sunday's Ha'Aretz newspaper.

A draft report on the region's violence from an international commission led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell was presented to Israeli and Palestinian officials last Friday and called for a freeze on all settlement activity.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has more on the preliminary Mitchell report (May 6)

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Sharon has been quoted by various Israeli media outlets as saying he rejects the recommendation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States has repeatedly voiced opposition to settlement building and similar construction because it will only "further inflame the already volatile situation."

"It's provocative," Reeker said, referring to the media reports. "We've asked both the Israelis and the Palestinians to refrain from provocative acts. That's why we are questioning ... why they would approve a wide range of settlement activity that includes construction of additional housing structures and infrastructure."

Reeker would not comment on the findings of the Mitchell Commission, which he said was an unfinished, independent report. The findings of the commission were leaked to the news media.

One U.S. official told CNN last week the commission cites Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount holy site last year as a factor in the eruption of the violence. The Palestinians claimed it was the cause of the intifada.

But the official added that the report gives credence to Israeli claims that the Palestinians were already mounting a campaign of violence in advance of the visit to gain leverage in negotiations with the Israelis, saying that Palestinians were anticipating an event that would spark the uprising.

The report uses an "ongoing timeline" and takes into account Israeli targeted killings as well as terrorist incidents against Israel since the intifada started, in its consideration of what contributed to violence in the region.

Contrary to the desire of the Palestinians, the commission does not recommend an international observer force to protect them from Israeli forces, according to a U.S. official and several other sources familiar with the report. The report reaffirms the U.S. position that an international force would be not be possible without the consent of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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