Canada's Foreign Affairs department had denied its minister was using tougher language against Israel when he condemned the announcement to build 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem.

Last week, Lawrence Cannon released a statement expressing both "regret" and "concern" for the new settlement plan, calling it an obstacle to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

During testimony before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee on Tuesday, Cannon said: "We firmly believe in two sovereign states living side by side in harmony. That is the position that the government of Canada has put forward.

"On expansion into east Jerusalem, we feel that this is contrary to international law and therefore condemn it. We're very concerned with what is taking place."

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Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the government is condemning Israel's announcement that it was building 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Later Tuesday, Cannon's office insisted that the government's diplomatic language has been consistent.

"I want to make it clear that what the minister said today in committee is not an escalation in our diplomatic language; our position has not changed; we have expressed Canada's concern regarding the planned expansion of Israeli settlements and are encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to move ahead with indirect peace talks," spokeswoman Catherine Loubier said in an e-mailed statement.

During question period in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had discussed the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone.

"I repeated the government of Canada's position, as the minister of Foreign Affairs did last week in collaboration with a number of our allies. Our position on the particular issue at hand is well known," Harper told the Commons.

"At the same time I indicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and would indicate to all involved in this particular conflict, that I hope they will all do their best efforts to see their way to resuming peace talks in some form as soon as possible."

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said that it was "interesting that the prime minister did not repeat the words of his minister two hours ago at the committee of the House of Commons."

Israel announced late last week that it will build 1,600 apartments for Jewish people in East Jerusalem.

The housing announcement came at the same time that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, and it set off a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

The U.S. administration called the Israeli conduct "insulting," and has demanded the building project be cancelled.

Israel wants to retain control of an undivided Jerusalem but the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement, Israel has given no indication it will back down from its construction plans.

Washington notified Israel early Tuesday that a visit to the region by Middle East envoy George Mitchell had been postponed.

Mitchell's trip had been planned to kick start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which were to have begun within days.

In the wake of the Israeli building announcement, the Palestinians had threatened to pull out of the talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she didn't think relations between the U.S. and Israel are in jeopardy, but said the Obama government is still waiting for Israel's response on how to fix the diplomatic damage.

Clinton stressed that Israel must also show it is committed to the peace process.

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Israeli soldiers run to take positions during clashes in Jerusalem's Old City. ((Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press))

Meanwhile, Palestinians and Israeli riot police clashed in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

With police barring any Palestinian male under the age of 50 from entering the Old City, there were small clashes in East Jerusalem between protesters and police.

Masked Palestinians hurled rocks at police, and set trash bins and tires on fire. The riot police responded with stun grenades and tear gas.

Palestinian rescue services said six people were injured, while Israeli police said 39 people were arrested.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press