Bush starts 48-hour visit to IsraelMay 14th, 2008 - 10:41 pm ICT by admin
Tel Aviv, May 14 (DPA) US President George W. Bush arrived here Wednesday for a 48-hour visit to Israel, during which he would “encourage” the parties to reach a peace deal this year, despite bitter arguments over Gaza violence and Israeli settlement construction. During the visit, in honour of Israel’s 60th anniversary, Bush is slated to address an international conference in Jerusalem Wednesday night, as well as Israel’s Knesset (parliament) Thursday afternoon.
He will be briefed by Israeli leaders on the difficult Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, in a series meetings before leaving Friday morning.
Unlike in his last visit in January, Bush will not travel to Ramallah, but will be briefed on the talks by the Palestinian side in meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas and Acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Saturday and Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on the eve of the Bush visit that his and Abbas’ negotiating teams have in their past five months of talks made “significant progress”.
“Points of agreement have been reached in important matters, but not on all of the issues,” he said in his address late Tuesday to the three-day Jerusalem conference hosted by President Shimon Peres.
Upon arrival at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, Bush told a festive welcome ceremony: “It’s good to be back again.”
“We our proud to reaffirm the friendship of our peoples,” he said. “Israel and the US were founded on the same democratic principles, faced similar challenges and over the years built an enduring alliance against terrorists.”
Olmert called Israel’s alliance with the US is “one of the fundamental pillars of our security”.
“Since assuming office almost eight years ago, President George W. Bush has been our closest ally and partner,” he said, calling Bush’s decision to celebrate Israel’s anniversary “an extraordinary gesture of friendship”.
Prior to his departure, Bush said he believed it was still possible to reach a peace deal before he leaves office in January 2009.
Ongoing violence in Gaza, from where Palestinian militants have been firing rockets into Israel, to which the Israelis have responded with air strikes and ground forays, have cast a dark shadow over the peace talks since they were revived in Annapolis, Maryland in November.
Palestinians are also angered with Israel’s declarations that it will not stop building in a number of a key West Bank settlement blocks, which it has vowed to keep under any final peace deal.
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