World briefs: Israel widens rift with U.S.

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JERUSALEM -- Israel pressed ahead Thursday with plans to build 3,300 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, raising tensions with the United States at a time when the allies are at odds over a new Palestinian government.

The government will build 1,500 new homes on land the Palestinians claim for a future state in response to this week's creation of a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel said. The Gaza Strip-based Islamic movement is classified as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

The erection of an additional 1,800 other settlement homes in various stages of approval or construction will be moved ahead at a meeting of a government planning committee next week, an Israeli official said.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro condemned the plans for new homes as detrimental to peace efforts.

Pope speaks up for Roma

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis on Thursday denounced the "hostility and contempt" that Roma people face in everyday life, and he called for better efforts to integrate them into "civilized life."

Speaking off the cuff at the end of a Vatican-hosted conference on preaching the Gospel to Roma people, the pontiff recalled witnessing concrete examples of discrimination.

An estimated 7,000 Roma people live in the Italian capital, mostly in miserable conditions in camps on the outskirts of the city or in squatted buildings. They are routinely blamed for petty crimes such as burglaries and pick-pocketing.

New U.S. envoy to Ireland

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated trial lawyer Kevin O'Malley as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, a post vacant for nearly 18 months since the resignation of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.

Mr. O'Malley, who is from St. Louis, Mo., is a long-time supporter of Mr. Obama, going back to 2007 before his first presidential primary.

Mr. Rooney said he was "pleased" Mr. Obama had nominated Mr. O'Malley for the post, adding, "I am confident he will do a fantastic job for the United States in working with the Irish government and the Irish people."

Mr. O'Malley's nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Chinese ship movement

MANILA, Philippines -- China is moving ships around disputed reefs in the South China Sea that could be used to reclaim land and build structures, President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines said Thursday.

Philippine officials said the Chinese ships were photographed from the air near the Gaven and Calderon Reefs, two areas of the Spratly Islands, a part of the South China Sea that includes reefs and islets claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Protest leader captured

BANGKOK -- Thailand's new military government on Thursday captured a top organizer of protests against its recent takeover and launching a probe into the finances of the former elected prime minister.

Protest leader Sombat Boonngam had defied an order from the new military government to report to the authorities, and went into hiding, going online to organize anti-coup protests in Bangkok.

Earlier Thursday, Thailand's state anti-corruption agency said it would investigate the assets of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and four members of her Cabinet involved in a rice subsidy program.

-- Compiled from news services

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