Pence starts visit in Israel, meets Netanyahu

Source: Xinhua| 2018-01-22 20:56:29|Editor: Liangyu
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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L, front) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L, front) in Jerusalem, on Jan. 22, 2018. (Xinhua/JINI)

JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence started his visit to Israel on Monday with a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which he said it was an honor "to be in Israel's capital, Jerusalem."

Netanyahu thanked Pence for U.S. President Donald Trump's "historic statement," in which he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and which Pence said he supports.

"This is the first time I'm standing here when both leaders can say those three words, 'Israel's capital, Jerusalem,'" Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader hailed the U.S.-Israeli close ties that "have never been stronger." He added that he looks "forward to discussing with you how to continue to strengthen the wonderful alliance between us."

The brief remarks were said during a warm welcome for Pence in Israel, including an honor guard that greeted him with the U.S. anthem, in a protocol usually reserved for heads of states.

The ceremony in Jerusalem was attended also by the White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.

Later on Monday, Pence is expected to address the Knesset (parliament) plenum, a session that all lawmakers with the Arab-Jewish Joint List, Israel's third largest party, said they will boycott.

On Tuesday, Pence is scheduled to visit the Western Wall in East Jerusalem, a Jewish holy site on the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to both Muslims and Jews and a focal point of the unrest in East Jerusalem.

The vice president has met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi Saturday and held talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II earlier on Sunday, before arriving in Israel.

Changing a long-held U.S. policy, Trump said last month he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the United States will relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

His statement was hailed by Israel but angered the Palestinians, with whom Pence has no meetings during his visit, and raised tensions in the region. The statement was denounced by other Arab and European countries.

Israel seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it shortly after, claiming it as part of its indivisible capital. The move, however, has never been recognized internationally.

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