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Tension fills West Bank visit

RAMALLAH — After an effusive welcome in Israel, President Barack Obama travelled to the occupied West Bank today for talks with Palestinian leaders who accuse him of sidelining their dream of statehood.

Obama flew by helicopter to the Palestinian government headquarters in Ramallah, where disillusioned Palestinians held out little hope that their moment in the US presidential spotlight would help revive a long-dormant peace process.

Some 150 Palestinian demonstrators gathered in Ramallah to protest against Obama’s visit. They were held back by mass ranks of police who prevented them from nearing President Mahmoud Abbas’s compound, where the aircraft landed.

A smiling Obama, accompanied by Abbas, was met by mostly stern-faced Palestinian officials along a red carpet – a stark contrast to the broad grins and backslapping during an elaborate welcoming ceremony yesterday at Tel Aviv airport.

Obama has made clear he is not bringing any new peace initiatives but instead has come to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on a “listening” tour.

As a reminder of the ever-present risks in the region, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets into Sderot, a southern Israeli town that Obama visited as a presidential candidate in 2008. Police said no one was hurt.

There were no claim of responsibility, and Obama is not going to visit Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, a rival to the Western-backed Abbas, who condemned the attack.

Obama held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday and toured the Israel Museum with him today, viewing the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls – underscoring the Jewish link to the Holy Land – and a high-tech exhibit.

The main focus of his initial discussions with Netanyahu appeared to be pressing regional concerns, primarily Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the civil war in neighbouring Syria, and winning the hearts of a skeptical Israeli public. (Reuters)

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