Barack Obama (photo, from bbc.co.uk), US Democratic presidential candidate, said he wants to stregthen US ties with Israel, at the beginning of his two-day visit in Israel. He spoke on arrival in Tel Aviv, after visiting Jordan and Iraq.
During his visit, the Illinois senator will visit Israel and the West Bank, and meet Israeli government and opposition leaders. And the Mr Obama is also calling on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, which John McCain, his Republican rival, did not do on a recent visit to the Middle East.
Barack Obama met Israeli president Shimon Peres, before travelling to the West Bank town of Ramallah, in order to see Mr Abbas and Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Authority prime mnister.
Last month, after saying that Jerusalem should be Israel’s “undivided” capital, the Democratic candidate angered the Palestinian leadership as well as other Arab leaders, because Palestinians want the town as the capital of a future state.
“The most important thing for me to share is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken”, said Mr Obama, after touching down at Tel Aviv airport, AFP news agency reported.
“I’m here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel’s security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a US senator or as president”, Mr Obama said.
He went to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he laid a wreath, lit a memorial flame, and deemed the place to ultimately be “a place of hope”. He was also due to tour the Western Wall (photo), Judaism’s holiest site.
Though it is the target of many Palestinian militant rocket attacks, Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, on Wednesday afternoon.
And on Thursday he is due to leave for Germany.
“One that I have affirmed throughout my career and one that I will intend to not only continue but strengthen in an Obama administration.”
Mr Obama is in the region in part to burnish his credentials on foreign policy, as well as among Jewish Democratic Party voters, ahead of November’s US presidential election, says BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood. He adds that the presumptive Democratic nominee is also facing a wider US electorate, of whom 10% think he is a Muslim, according to a recent opinion poll.
According to BBC’s correspondent, other false claims exist : some also believe that Barack Obama was educated in a madrassa (Islamic religious school) and refused to place his hand on the Bible when sworn into the Senate.
Before arriving in Israel on Tuesday, the Democratic candidate was in Jordan, where he met King Abdullah. After the meeting Mr Obama said that he would work to bring Israel and the Palestinians together “starting from the minute I’m sworn into office”.
But he added that it is “unrealistic to expect that a US president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region”.
Earlier he joined a US congressional delegation on a visit to Iraq, where he met Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Baghdad.
He repeated that if elected president, he would withdraw US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.
According to John McCain, Barack Obama had been wrong to press for withdrawal timetables.