Gaza rockets hit Israel as Obama sets off for his West Bank meet
Relatives of prisoners of Palestinians held in Israeli jails burn pictures of US President Barack Obama during a protest against his visit to the region at the Jabalyia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
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Two rockets fired by militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Thursday hit southern Israel as U.S. President Barack Obama was making his first official visit to the country in four years, police said.
“One exploded in the backyard of a house in Sderot, causing damage and the second landed in a field,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, referring to a town very close to the Gaza border, which was visited by Obama when he last visited as a senator in 2008.
Obama, who will make his first official visit as U.S. president to the West Bank Thursday, said he will not bring any new initiatives to try to revive long-dormant peace talks and has instead come to Israel and the Palestinian territories for simple consultations.
Arriving in Israel on Wednesday, the main focus of initial discussions with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared to be pressing regional concerns, primarily Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the civil war in neighboring Syria.
After repeated run-ins with Netanyahu during Obama’s first term in office, the mood between the two men appeared to be much warmer, angering Palestinians, who blame the 2010 collapse of U.S.-backed peace negotiations on the Israeli leader’s expansion of Jewish settlements on land where they want their state.
Obama is to address the decades-old conflict in talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and also in a keynote speech just hours later to a large audience of carefully screened Israeli students in Jerusalem.
But after the lofty ambitions of his first term, when he appointed a special envoy to the Middle East on his very first day in charge and said peacemaking was a priority, it was clear that Obama has now set the bar significantly lower.
“I will consider this a success if, when I go back on Friday, I am able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are,” he told a joint news conference on Wednesday, standing alongside Netanyahu.
The three-day visit is Obama’s first to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank since entering the White House in2009, and the inaugural foreign trip of a second and final four-year term that began in January.
Sporadic protests flared in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this week, with Palestinians accusing Obama of not doing enough to halt Israeli settlement-building on land seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
In 2009, Obama bluntly told Israel it had to halt settlement construction, but he later backed away from the demand and made no mention of the enclaves on Wednesday.
Posters depicting Obama were defaced in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem earlier this week and anti-U.S. sentiment bubbled up on social media.
“Do Not Enter,” said one poster put up on Facebook, showing Obama’s face with a red line crossed through it. “The people of Palestine do not welcome you here.”