Pence visits Western Wall holy site amid tension over US Jerusalem policy
Thomas COEX (AFP)
US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall holy site on Tuesday while Palestinians held a general strike and protests after denouncing his fervently pro-Israel speech the previous day as "messianic".
The Western Wall -- the holiest site in Judaism -- lies in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the sector the Palestinians want as capital of their future state, and many Israelis are likely to interpret it as Pence further backing their claim over the entire city.
Pence's visit to the site follows in the footsteps of President Donald Trump, who became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in May last year.
The devout Christian donned a kippah, a traditional Jewish prayer cap, and placed a note in the wall before signing the guest book at the site. Pence's wife Karen prayed separately at the site, which is segregated by gender according to Jewish law.
The vice president said "the friendship between our peoples has never been deeper. And I am here to convey a simple message from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel."
"Very inspiring," Pence said after the visit during which he was not accompanied by Israeli government officials.
He traveled from the holy city to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, from where he is expected to fly back to the US.
Before visiting the Western Wall, Pence laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
He toured the memorial accompanied by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu.
The US move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital broke with decades of international consensus that the city's status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Unrest since the announcement has left 18 Palestinians dead, most of them killed in clashes with Israeli forces. One Israeli has been killed in that time.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
In Jerusalem, Pence reiterated Trump's position that the United States will support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "if both sides agree."
Pence's visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a US military base near the Syrian border.
Arab outrage over Trump's Jerusalem decision on December 6 had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence's tour.
(Staff with AFP)
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