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Israel won't stop building

JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday rejected President Obama's demand that it halt the construction of additional Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, hours before the White House sent U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell to re-evaluate his mission.

"There will be no freeze on construction in Jerusalem. Everyone knows it," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli television Thursday night.

Friday will mark the first talks in the region by Mitchell since last month, when a diplomatic crisis erupted over Israel's continued insistence on building more homes for Jewish settlers in what until 1967 was Arab land.

American officials in Jerusalem said that Mitchell is hoping to persuade Palestinians to proceed with a U.S. plan for indirect peace talks. Palestinian officials, however, said they would continue to insist that Israel halt settlement construction as a precondition to the talks.

Former Venezuelan general blasts Cubans

CARACAS, Venezuela — A former Venezuelan army general on Thursday denounced what he called the widespread involvement of Cuban troops in President Hugo Chavez's military.

Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who used to head the government's emergency management agency, said his decision to retire from the army this month was motivated mainly by "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers" in Venezuela's armed forces.

He told reporters that Cubans are now involved in training troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in intelligence, weapons, communications and other areas. There was no immediate reaction from Chavez's government.

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