US vice president confirms visit to Israel amid Jerusalem tensions
US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Israel as part of a Middle East tour initially planned for last month after President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The delayed Middle East tour will take place from 20 to 23 January and see Pence visiting Egypt and Jordan in a bid to mend relations after the controversial Jerusalem decision.
He will hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement.
Pence, a strong supporter of Trump's decision on Jerusalem, will also visit the city's Western Wall and give a speech at the Israeli parliament, it said.
Trump's decision on Jerusalem and announcement in December that the US would start the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv led to uproar and protest in the region.
"At President Trump's direction, the vice president is travelling to the Middle East to reaffirm our commitment to work with the US's allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations," said Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence.
He plans to discuss with the three leaders "ways to work together to fight terrorism and improve our national security", she added.
The status of Jerusalem, which is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who were furious over Trump's move and have declined to meet with Pence.
The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the full city.
Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal capital, while Palestinians want the capital of an independent state of theirs to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move never recognised internationally.
Pence postponed a planned visit to Egypt and Israel last month to stay in Washington for a congressional vote on Trump's tax overhaul plan.
Palestinian officials cancelled their meeting with Pence in the West Bank following President Donald Trump's decision last week to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
"There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine," Abbas's diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khaldi said on Saturday. "The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision."
The White House warned that cancelling the meeting in the West Bank would be "counterproductive", but Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to shun Pence following Trump's announcement.
Palestinian officials have pressured local church leaders to reject Pence's visit and follow the example of the Egyptian Coptic Church whose pope has refused to meet the US vice president due to the decision.