Clinton to visit Israel, ME in March

Secretary of state to make first official visit to region and will also attend PA aid drive in Egypt.

clinton 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
clinton 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Hillary Clinton will likely make her first trip to Israel as secretary of state at the beginning of March, according to State Department officials. Though her trip has not been confirmed or officially announced, she is expected to come as part of a visit to participate in the donors' conference for Palestinians being organized by Egypt on March 2. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters during a trip to Washington on Thursday that Clinton would be making the trip. "The secretary will be coming to Cairo on the second of March," Aboul Gheit said. "We expect lots of commitments from everybody, lots of commitments for reconstruction." The United States has already contributed nearly $60 million since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza this winter, most of it going to international institutions on the ground in Gaza, including the United Nations and Red Cross. The State Department spokesman's office strongly welcomed Egypt's decision to host a donors' conference and is calling on other international parties to participate. The State Department described the conference as an "opportunity to address, along with other donors and international organizations, the immediate humanitarian suffering in Gaza and support the Palestinian Authority's plan for the reconstruction of Gaza as an integral part of a future Palestinian state." The US is also eager to show its appreciation to Egypt for working to bring a cease-fire between the different parties and playing a high-profile role in addressing the conflict, according to observers. Meanwhile, more than 50 members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter to Clinton calling on her to halt US contributions to the United Nations Relief Works Agency until more stringent reviews show whether any Palestinian terrorists are receiving money from the refugee organization. The letter, co-authored by Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), said the representatives support US assistance to Palestinians but want to make sure none of it is reaching Hamas supporters. A bill sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and submitted this week makes a similar demand, and also calls on the United States to push for Israel to be included in the European bloc at the United Nations so that it can participate as a full member in the world body. Meanwhile Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will travel to Syria as well as Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt this week, according to his office. He reportedly will be meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad while in Damascus, following a congressional delegation's visit to the Syrian leader earlier this year. Kerry's planned visit, as well as that by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman of California, follow statements by President Barack Obama that the US is looking to engage Syria. AP contributed to this report.