Cheney arrives in Israel to press peace talks

Cheney arrives in   Israel to press peace talks

( Reuter )- Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Israel on Saturday to try to push forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks mired in disputes over Jewish settlement building around Jerusalem and violence.

He will also visit the Palestinian territories over the weekend, before leaving for Turkey, his last stop on a nine-day visit to the Middle East region.

"The vice president's discussions will involve the ways forward in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism and to protect its citizenry," Lea Anne McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, told reporters traveling with him.

Israel tightened its economic and military cordon around the Gaza Strip after Hamas Islamists routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's more secular Fatah forces and seized control of the coastal territory in June.

Violence in Gaza and Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank are among the issues that have disrupted U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

"The vice president also looks forward to visiting Palestinian territories to reaffirm the president's commitment to the current efforts towards the two-state solution and efforts to strengthen Palestinian institutions," McBride said.

President George W. Bush made his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank in January and said he was optimistic a peace deal could be reached before he left office in January 2009. Bush is expected to make another trip this spring.

"The president asked the vice president to visit Israel, America's close friend and ally, to discuss significant regional issues in advance of his return trip in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel," McBride said.

Hamas defeated Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement in parliamentary elections in January 2006, spurring the United States and European Union to suspend aid to the Hamas-led government.

In an effort to end the Western boycott, Abbas and Haniyeh agreed to form a unity government in March 2007, but the administration collapsed a few months later amid factional fighting that culminated in Hamas's takeover of Gaza.

Efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas have so far failed

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