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Obama's first visit to Israel

JERUSALEM — U.S. President Barack Obama arrived to a full ceremonial welcome at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday and declared that America's alliance with Israel is "eternal and forever."

Walking down a long red carpet, he shook hands with and embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

They stood as the American and Israeli anthems were played. Obama and Peres reviewed an Israeli military honor guard.

In a brief address to dignitaries at the airport, Obama said he made Israel the first overseas stop of his second term because wants to reaffirm the U.S. ties with Israel.

"Across this region, the winds of change bring both promise and peril," he said. "So I see this visit as an opportunity, to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to re-state America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security, and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors."

Prime Minister Netanyahu said he had one primary message for Obama and the American people.

"Thank you," he said. "Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East.  Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

Iron Dome visit

At the airport, Obama inspected a missile battery and other equipment that is part of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, financed with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance.

Israel used the Iron Dome to shoot down rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during an eight-day conflict last November.

Both leaders have cited the Iron Dome as an example of "unprecedented" security cooperation between their nations.

Obama then flew by helicopter to Jerusalem where he and Netanyahu and Peres will hold talks on stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts, Syria, and Iran's nuclear program.

In his arrival remarks, President Obama said "peace must come to the Holy Land."

Obama will travel to the West Bank on Thursday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

President Obama is also scheduled to visit a set of cultural and religious sites in the region, including seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum and a stop at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Many Palestinians have said they are disappointed with Obama, and see little reason for optimism in his second term. There were scattered protests in the Palestinian territories on Wednesday ahead of Obama's arrival.

On Friday, his schedule includes talks with King Abdullah in Jordan, where the United States has been helping authorities to cope with a flood of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

© VOA -

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