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MINNEAPOLIS -- Leaders of the U.S. Presbyterian Church have strongly backed a recommendation that the U.S. end aid to Israel unless that country stops settlement expansions in disputed Palestinian territories.

The measure passed with 82 percent support Friday at the denomination's general assembly in Minneapolis.

U.S. Jewish groups have long taken issue with various Presbyterian statements and decisions on Middle East peace. But on Friday a spokesman offered qualified praise for what he calls "important signals" by leaders of the 2 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that they want to make the relationship less contentious.

Ethan Felson, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, praised Presbyterians for strengthening support for Israel's right to exist and removing comparisons of Israeli policy to apartheid.