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Clinton to Israel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hillary Clinton will make her first visit to Israel as U.S. secretary of state.

The centerpiece of Clinton’s tour, announced Thursday by the State Department, will be a March 2 fund-raising conference for the Palestinians in Egypt; she continues from there to Israel and the West Bank. The United States is expected to pledge $900 million to rebuild the Gaza Strip after the recent war there devastated the area.

Clinton reportedly will be pressing Israel to ease restrictions on the transfer of humanitarian assistance into the strip.

Clinton, who will be accompanied by her chief Middle East mediator, George Mitchell, will also visit Turkey. The statement from the State Department did not elaborate, but the Obama administration is expected to embrace the Turkish-mediate Israel-Syria peace talks. Bush administration policy was not to encourage the talks.

Jeffrey Feltman, an acting assistant secretary of state, met Thursday with Syria’s envoy to Washington, Imad Moustapha, in the Syrian ambassador’s most senior meeting with a U.S. official in years.

The State Department announcement of the Feltman-Moustapha meeting made clear that even with the Obama administration’s commitment to greater outreach, it still has red lines.

"There remain key differences between our two governments, including our concerns about Syria’s support to terrorist groups and networks, Syria’s acquisition of nuclear and non-conventional weaponry, interference in Lebanon and worsening human rights situation," the statement said. "This meeting is an opportunity to use dialogue to discuss these concerns."

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