Obama opens talks with Israeli, Palestinian officials

Israel Materials 23 July 2008 10:33 (UTC +04:00)

US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was in Jerusalem on Wednesday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, reported dpa.

His visit is an important step in his election campaign and intended to reaffirm strong ties between United States and Israel, drive home his own position and signal his support for the peace process.

"The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that I have affirmed throughout my career and one that I would intend to not only continue but actually strengthen," he said on landing in Tel Aviv.

Kicking off his day in talks over breakfast with Israeli's Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem, Obama was also due to meet opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and tour Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Thereafter he would meet President Shimon Peres before setting out for Ramallah in the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior officials from the Palestinian Authority.

The Illinois senator would also survey Jerusalem and the West Bank in a helicopter.

His visit comes a day after an attack in which a Palestinian construction worker ploughed a bulldozer into traffic in the city centre, injuring at least 16 people. Obama condemned the attack that mirrored an attack in which three Israeli's were killed earlier this month.

"My last thought is to the families who suffer the terrible tragedy that we saw today and it's just one more reminder of why we have to work diligently and urgently and in a unified way to defeat terrorism," he said.

"There are no excuses," he said, adding he intended to "work with the Israeli government to make sure that these things do not happen."

Obama arrived in Israel late Tuesday after meeting Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman.