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Palestinians Accuse US of Damaging Peace Process

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Palestinian leaders are voicing frustration after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israel for making what she said are unprecedented concessions in efforts to restart peace negotiations. Israeli leaders are keeping up their calls for the Palestinians to drop all preconditions.

Palestinian leaders on Sunday stuck to their demands that Israel stop all settlement activity before any resumption of peace talks that have been stalled since December.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called late Saturday for all sides to return to talks and praised what she said are Israel's unprecedented concessions, which she said include its offer to restrain settlement growth.

She urged both sides to return to talks as soon as possible and backed Israel's assertion that all demands over settlements should be dealt with during negotiations, not sooner.

"There has never been a precondition," said Clinton. "It has always been an issue within the negotiations."

Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary Clinton the Palestinians will not back off their demand for Israel to freeze settlements before negotiations resume.

Speaking on Israeli radio Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reaffirmed there would be no return to talks unless Israel freezes settlements first.

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The Palestinian official said the Palestinians want peace, but not peace at any price and not the peace that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is offering.

Mr. Netanyahu addressed his Cabinet on Sunday, saying Israel will keep up its efforts to resume talks.

Mr. Netanyahu said U.S. Envoy George Mitchell was staying in the country another day, and he said Israel is making a concerted effort in order to bring about the renewal of negotiations. The Israeli leader says his government has expressed the intention to do unprecedented things to jump-start the process and he says the Americans are well aware of this.

The Israeli Prime Minister said the Palestinians have imposed preconditions that they had not imposed before during 16 years of negotiations. He says he hopes the Palestinian leaders will change their minds and start talks without delay.

An aide to President Abbas accused the Obama administration of backtracking on its earlier promises to push for a freeze on settlement construction. He said Secretary Clinton's acceptance of Israel's offer to restrain - rather than freeze - settlement growth has killed any hope of restarting peace talks anytime soon.

The settlements, whose growth has been promoted by past Israeli governments, are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. They were built on lands in the West Bank that Israel captured and occupied after its victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Palestinians say the existence of the settlements hampers the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.