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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 15:44 GMT
Bush launches key Mid-East tour
PM Ehud Olmert, President Bush and President Peres at Tel Aviv airport
Mr Bush was met by President Shimon Peres and PM Ehud Olmert

US President George W Bush has begun talks with Israeli leaders at the start of a visit to the Middle East aimed at advancing peace negotiations.

Mr Bush received a red carpet welcome at Tel Aviv airport, where he was greeted by the entire Israeli cabinet.

He said he saw a "new opportunity for peace here in the holy land" as he began his first visit as president.

But within hours of his arrival, the Palestinians reported that Israeli forces had killed three people in Gaza.

Another four were reported wounded.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of stepping up such raids ahead of Mr Bush's visit.

At the arrival ceremony Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert spoke of the "unshakeable" bond between Israel and the United States, and of his deep personal friendship with Mr Bush.

President Shimon Peres meanwhile called on Mr Bush to "stop the madness" of Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and warned Iran not to "underestimate our resolve for self-defence".

We are expecting that President Bush will get Israel to freeze settlement activity
Nabil Abu Rudeina,
Abbas spokesman

For his part, Mr Bush said Israel and the US had "built two great democracies under difficult circumstances".

He said the alliance between the US and Israel "helps guarantee Israel's security as a Jewish state".

His visit was not welcomed by Hamas, the militant group cut off by Israel and the West after winning Palestinian elections and which now runs Gaza.

"Bush is not welcome because he is one of the most prominent reasons for the suffering of the Palestinian people," Sami Abu-Zhuri, a senior Hamas official, told the BBC.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed at a US summit last year to try to achieve a two-state solution by the end of 2008.

Israeli and Palestinian views on US leader's visit

And in a meeting on Tuesday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it had been agreed that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, would "start intensive meetings to immediately discuss all core issues of a final status agreement."

These include

  • Israeli settlements
  • militant rocket fire into Israeli territory
  • the fate of Palestinians made refugees since Israel's creation in 1948
  • the sovereignty of Jerusalem itself

After his talks with the Israelis Mr Bush goes to the West Bank on Thursday to see the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He then goes on to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

President Bush's role in the talks explained

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