August 21, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians, backed by the Arab League, accused the United States on Sunday of destroying the Middle East peace process after Washington signaled it could accept some growth of Israeli settlements.

Until now, the United States had demanded a freeze on building all Jewish settlements on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. The communities are seen as illegal by most of the world, though Israel disputes this. But the Bush administration signaled flexibility on Saturday on some limited growth in West Bank settlements to help embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) as he tries to get a plan for withdrawal from occupied Gaza past his far right.

"I do not believe that America says now that settlements can be expanded. This thwarts and destroys the peace process," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie told reporters

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