The U.S. ambassador to Israel on Friday leveled unusually blunt criticism at the Israeli government for its settlement and immigrant absorption policies.

William Brown's comments came amid growing tension between Israel and the United States on those issues.On Wednesday, the Bush administration snubbed Israel's housing minister, Ariel Sharon, for pursuing an aggressive settlement-building policy despite U.S. objections. Israel protested the action on Thursday.

"It is now becoming increasingly clear, from public statements in Israel as well as other sources, that tremendous priority has been given to providing housing in the (occupied) territories," Brown said in a speech to the Commercial and Industrial Club in Tel Aviv.

Brown noted that mobile homes have been installed overnight in the occupied territories, while it can take months for such housing to be set up in Israel proper.

He referred to the small enclaves of Jewish settlers living in mobile homes that have quietly sprung up in the West Bank in recent weeks, including one opened on the eve of Secretary of State James A. Baker III's visit to Israel last week.

Sharon has outspokenly opposed Baker's latest peace initiative and pledged to move 50,000 more Jewish settlers into the occupied lands over the next two years.

As a result, Baker pressed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp not to meet Sharon at his office in Washington on Wednesday. Instead, Kemp met Sharon at the Israeli Embassy.

Brown conceded during his speech that his remarks were unusually frank for an ambassador. He said ambassadors are expected to "make sure there is enough sugar coating on any bitter pills we hand out. But we are also expected to make sober judgments and to try to anticipate problems."