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Bush in Israel for peace talks

US President George W Bush arrived in Israel on Wednesday at the start of a tour aimed at forging a West Asia peace deal and shoring up Arab support amid escalating tensions with archfoe Iran.

world Updated: Jan 09, 2008 20:47 IST

US President George W Bush arrived in Israel on Wednesday at the start of a tour aimed at forging a West Asia peace deal and shoring up Arab support amid escalating tensions with archfoe Iran.

Bush flew in on Air Force One for his first visit to Israel and the West Bank, seeking a foreign-policy triumph in his last year in office, and to rally support of Arab allies in the face of what he calls the Iranian "threat."

Israeli and Palestinian authorities have set up a a massive security operation amid threats of violence, including a call by US member of Al-Qaeda who urged followers to greet Bush with "bombs not flowers."

The US president is vowing to advance Middle East peace talks revived just six weeks ago, with a view to creating a Palestinian state before his term ends in January 2009.

Bush said he hoped to have "outlines of a state clearly defined, so that at some point in time, the Palestinians who agree that Israel ought to exist and agree that a state ought to live side by side with Israel in peace, have something to be for."

On the eve of his visit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas agreed to start negotiations on key issues at the heart of their conflict — borders, Jewish settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

The two met in a bid to revitalise talks that have stumbled over Israel's recent plans to expand settlements on occupied land and its intensifying assaults against Palestinian militants.

In Gaza, a gunman from the radical Islamic Jihad was killed by Israeli troops, bringing the death toll since the peace process was relaunched at the US conference in November to around 100, mostly Palestinian militants.

Bush, on the first presidential visit in nine years, is due to meet Olmert and Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday and head to Ramallah for talks with Abbas on Thursday.