US president set for landmark Israel visit

US president set for landmark Israel visit

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US president set for landmark Israel visit

A Jewish man walks past a banner showing US President Obama in Jerusalem. Obama will make his first visit to Israel since becoming president. AP Photo

U.S. President Barack Obama today kicks-off his first visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah since being elected president in 2008.

During the visit, Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah to hear their perspective on how to resolve the decades-long conflict.

Obama is also scheduled to be feted at a state dinner by Israeli President Shimon Peres, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

“My goal on this trip is to listen. I intend to meet with Bibi (Netanyahu) ... I intend to meet with Fayyad and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?” Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 in an interview.

As soon as he arrives at Tel Aviv airport, Obama is set to inspect a battery in the Iron Dome air defense system that was largely funded by the U.S. Before he leaves Israel on March 22, Obama will travel to Mount Herzl, where he will lay wreaths at the graves of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. In Jordan same day, Obama will meet King Abdullah II and hold a press conference before visiting the ancient ruins of Petra a day later.

Security measures across Jerusalem have been stepped up dramatically ahead of the visit, police said.

“This is the largest police operation since President George Bush’s visit in 2008,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.