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POLL: Israelis 'Overwhelmingly' Favor Obama, Mixed On Netanyahu

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(AP) JERUSALEM - A poll released Friday shows that Israelis overwhelmingly have a favorable impression of President Barack Obama, despite a grave diplomatic feud with the U.S. over east Jerusalem construction.

Between a total of three polls released Friday, Israelis sent mixed signals about their own leader. Thirty-six percent of those questioned for one poll thought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was best suited to lead Israel, versus 26 percent for his closest challenger, opposition leader Tzipi Livni. But another poll showed Livni's Kadima Party would overtake Netanyahu's Likud by a wider margin if elections were held today.

All three polls showed a majority of Israelis supported continued construction in Jerusalem's disputed eastern sector, the issue at the heart of the U.S.-Israeli row. Support ranged from 48 percent in one poll to 70 percent in another.

Some Israelis have misgivings about Obama, who is cooler to Israel than his immediate predecessors and has made a big effort to reach out to the Muslim world.

But a Dialog survey of 499 people on Wednesday and Thursday showed that seven out of 10 Israelis share a favorable view. The poll had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Israel's plan to build 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem, announced during Vice President Joe Biden's visit here last week, caused one of the most serious rifts between the two countries in decades.

In Moscow on Friday, the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers -- the U.S., U.N., EU and Russia -- reiterated their condemnation of the construction but did not escalate their criticism of Israel.

Netanyahu tried to defuse the crisis in a call Thursday to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wanted the project canceled. Neither side has offered details of the confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians that his office said he proposed.

The row coincided with clashes this week in east Jerusalem, home to shrines sacred to Jews and Muslims. On Friday, police were out in large numbers in east Jerusalem in anticipation of another possible round of unrest after midday Muslim prayers, traditionally a time for protests when tensions are high.

While Jerusalem remained quiet by midday, protesters in the West Bank town of Hebron lobbed rocks at Israeli security forces, who responded with tear gas. The city is controlled by Islamic Hamas militants who also rule the Gaza Strip.

Militants in Gaza fired a rocket at southern Israel on Friday, a day after a rocket killed a Thai worker in the first deadly attack on Israel since last year's Gaza Strip war. No one was injured in Friday's rocket fire and no group immediately claimed responsibility.

The Dialog survey and two other polls released Friday showed that a significant number of Israelis support continued building in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967. Netanyahu, unlike his predecessors, opposes sharing the city with the Palestinians, who claim the eastern sector for a future capital.

Dialog said 41 percent of respondents would freeze construction during negotiations with the Palestinians, which were derailed by the Israeli construction announcement. Forty-eight percent wanted construction to proceed.

The Dahaf Research Institute, which polled 500 people, found that 51 percent objected to a settlement freeze and 46 percent supported one. The survey had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

A third poll, by Maagar Mohot, indicated that 70 percent of Israelis support continued construction. The survey of 511 people on Tuesday and Wednesday had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

While Israelis consider the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem to be like any other in the city, the Palestinians and the international community view them as settlements like those Israel has built in the West Bank.

Findings were similarly mixed with regard to Netanyahu's stewardship of the country.

While the Dialog survey found him to be the most desirable candidate, Dahaf found that Livni's Kadima would take 32 of parliament's 120 seats, and Likud would take 29. Today Kadima has 28 seats and Likud has 27.