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Obama Takes Off from Washington on the Way to Israel

U.S. President Barack Obama departed late Tuesday en route to Israel for a four-day trip to the Middle East.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/20/2013, 3:15 AM

Obama waves as he steps aboard Air Force One on the way to Israel
Obama waves as he steps aboard Air Force One on the way to Israel
Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama departed late Tuesday en route to Israel for a four-day trip to the Middle East, a journalist traveling with the U.S. president said.

According to AFP, the president's airplane, Air Force One, took off at 8:15 p.m. local time from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

Obama is scheduled to touch down in Tel Aviv at around 10:30 GMT (12:30 p.m. Israel time) Wednesday, according to the president's official schedule.

U.S. officials have styled Obama's trip as an effort to reconnect with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and to coordinate on key issues like Iran and Syria.

Obama will also meet Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah and will visit Jordan, on the first foreign policy mission of his second term.

Administration officials have signaled there will be no major peace initiative during the trip, with Obama stating he is traveling to the region to "listen" to both sides.

Upon his arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday afternoon, the President will be welcomed to Israel in an official ceremony in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

He will then tour an Iron Dome anti-missile battery that was transferred to the airport specifically so Obama can take a look at it. Obama will then take off in his private helicopter to the presidential suite at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

After a short rest at the hotel, Obama will meet with President Peres and later with Netanyahu. Obama and Netanyahu will hold a joint press conference at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening.

Reports on Monday indicated that Netanyahu will hold three working meetings with Obama during the three-day visit to Israel.

The original plans called for only one meeting on Wednesday. However, meetings with Netanyahu have been added to Obama's schedule on Thursday and Friday as well, after the President meets PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah.

The Wednesday meeting will be the longest of the three. Thursday's meeting will include President Shimon Peres. On Thursday Obama is also scheduled to meet with opposition leader MK Shelly Yechimovich, also in the presence of Peres.

Last week Obama said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News that his trip is meant to "listen" to both sides and hear their views on how to move forward after over two years without peace talks.