The Associated Press
May 14, 2008 - 5:12pm

US President George W Bush has opened a celebratory visit to Israel where he'll make a new push for peace in the long-troubled Middle East.

The president arrived in Tel Aviv and was flying by helicopter to Occupied Jerusalem for events marking the 60th anniversary of Israel's birth in the wake of the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews. 

Bush says the Mideast is "the center of anti-Americanism and hatred" and that those who attacked the US on September 11 "came from this part of the world."

But Bush says that the vast majority of people in the region don't hate America. Bush says the best way to keep Americans secure is to advance freedom in the Middle East.

Ahead of the visit , Bush expressed some optimism that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be struck before his term ends, while holding out little hope for a major breakthrough.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday reaching such a deal within the next eight months "might be improbable but it's not impossible."

Bush left the White House late on Tuesday afternoon on the trip that will first take him to attend ceremonies in Occupied Jerusalem marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state.

He also will go to Saudi Arabia where he promises to press King Abdullah to increase oil production to ease soaring costs on consumers. Bush made a similar plea in January but it was ignored.

As Bush prepared to leave Washington, Senate Democrats introduced a resolution that would block $1.4 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia unless Riyadh agrees to increase its oil production by 1 million barrels per day.

The Democrats said they introduced the measure to coincide with Bush's trip to send a message to Saudi Arabia that it should pump more oil to reduce the cost of gas for Americans.

The president's final stop will be at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, where he will meet over two days with a handful of leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Iraqi leaders.

Bush also is scheduled to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, but that is in doubt now after clashes between the US-backed government in Beirut and Hezbollah-led opposition.


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