Israel's new housing minister said on Sunday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's incoming cabinet would keep expanding Jewish settlements to the same extent as his previous government.

The remarks came two days ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama who has urged Israel to halt settlement on land that Palestinians seek for a state. They suggested that Netanyahu's new cabinet could prove to be as hawkish as his outgoing coalition.

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Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a Jewish settler and member of the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi party, said in a television interview that "building will continue in accordance with what the government's policy has been thus far." Using the biblical names for the territory Israel captured in a 1967 war, Ariel told Israel's Channel 10 television the government "will build in Judea and Samaria more or less as it has done previously. I see no reason to change it."

Ariel added that Israel planned the bulk of housing construction for more sparsely populated areas within its sovereign borders in the Negev desert to the south and Galilee region in its north.

He said construction in the West Bank was "not the main story" for his housing plans.

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