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US President Obama on few hours visit to West Bank

Thursday March 21, 2013 08:27:18 PM, IINA

Ramallah: US President Barack Obama is due to arrive in the West Bank city of Ramallah today for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is likely to be at the core of the talks with Abbas.

Obama, who will make his first official visit as U.S. president to the West Bank, said he will not bring any new initiatives to try to revive long-dormant peace talks and has instead come to Israel and the Palestinian territories for simple consultations.

The American leader will only spend a few hours in Ramallah, before heading to Jerusalem to give a speech. After his trip to the West Bank, Obama is expected to deliver a speech to Israeli students in Jerusalem. He will leave for Jordan on Friday.

Obama is coming to Ramallah by helicopter for meetings with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank at the presidential headquarters, the Muqata.


The prisoners' minister will hand him a letter from Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.


Obama will then briefly visit a youth centre here to see a project funded by USAID.


There is deep disappointment among Palestinians that Obama has not done more to support their bid for an independent state.


PLO official Nabil Shaath suggests he "won the hearts of Palestinians" in his 2009 Cairo speech when he said "the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states" but laments the president's "lack of determination" to bring about negotiations.


Palestinians want to show Obama how the rapid expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank threatens to fatally undermine a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel. However they do not expect to achieve much during his few hours here.

Obama made his first trip to Israel as president yesterday, holding talks with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, BBC reported.


The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.


Speaking in Jerusalem, Obama said a central element of securing a lasting peace in the Middle East "must be a strong and secure Jewish state where its security concerns are met, alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state".

Meanwhile, Israeli police said two rockets had been fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday morning.


“One exploded in the backyard of a house in Sderot, causing damage and the second landed in a field,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, referring to a town very close to the Gaza border, which was visited by Obama when he last visited as a senator in 2008.


There have been no reports of injuries or casualties.

The BBC's Jon Donnison in Ramallah says the West Bank meeting could prove a difficult corner to turn, after Obama also declared that the US was Israel's strongest ally.


Palestinians have been disappointed with the American leader and expectations are low.


In a 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama called the situation for Palestinians "intolerable" and spoke of their undeniable suffering in pursuit of a homeland.


Since then, however, little has changed on the ground as the Middle East's most intractable conflict has been sidelined by the Arab Spring, and US-Israeli concern over Syria and Iran. Following the talks in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said his new government, sworn in earlier this week, remained "fully committed to peace and the solution of two states."


"We extend our hands in peace and friendship to the Palestinian people," he said, adding that he hoped Obama's visit would "turn a page" in relations with the Palestinians. But the two leaders also said they agreed that Israel had the right to "defend itself by itself".

Security for his three-day visit is tight, with thousands of Israeli and Palestinian security officers on duty in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Palestinians' de facto capital.


Both Israeli and Palestinian groups have staged protests in the run-up to Obama's visit.


There were clashes in Hebron in the West Bank between Israeli settlers and pro-Palestinian protesters calling for an end to "apartheid", and in Gaza City protesters burned US flags outside UN offices.


Posters depicting Obama were defaced in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem earlier this week and anti-U.S. sentiment bubbled up on social media.


“Do Not Enter,” said one poster put up on Facebook, showing Obama’s face with a red line crossed through it. “The people of Palestine do not welcome you here.”




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