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March 21, 2013

Palestinians vent frustration at brief Obama visit

http://www.jewishjournal.com/israel/article/palestinians_vent_frustration_at_brief_obama_visit

A Palestinian slaps a shoe on a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest against his visit, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 21. Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian slaps a shoe on a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest against his visit, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 21. Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian protesters raised their hands and tried to wave away the helicopter that brought U.S. President Barack Obama to the West Bank on Thursday, accusing him of siding with Israel.

Around 150 demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans, saying they wanted weapons not presidential visits.

"We want RPGs, not collaboration with the CIA," they shouted, referring to rocket-propelled grenades.

Obama landed in the government compound of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying beforehand that he was coming to listen and was not bringing any new initiatives to re-launch U.S.-sponsored peace talks that broke down in 2010.

Much of the Palestinian de facto capital Ramallah was shut down for Obama's trip, which is set to last less than five hours, with hundreds of armed security men, police officers and plainclothes enforcers patrolling the streets.

While the U.S. president received a warm welcome when he arrived in Israel on Wednesday, Palestinians were much colder, clearly angered by his promise of unstinting support for Israel and repeated pledges to guarantee its security needs.

"He surprised us with his speech last night with just how much he flattered Israel, going on and on about its security," said Hussein Shujayia, 26. "What about us? There's no place for us in their arrogant pro-Israel policies."

Other Palestinians expressed indifference.

"The visit by this president is no different than all the other presidents' visits. They come, they go and no change is made," said Mohammed Mohammed, 23, watching the protesters from outside his shoe shop in Ramallah's bustling downtown.

Obama is spending three days in Israel and the West Bank, with the vast majority of his appointments taking place in the Jewish state, including plans to lay a wreath on the grave of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.

Palestinian requests for Obama to meet the family of a Palestinian in an Israeli jail and to visit the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat were turned down, local officials said.

"This is a negative decision by the American president. Yasser Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people, and some day, the American president should visit the grave," said Batta Araar, a resident of a village near Ramallah.

Palestinians complain that Obama has not put enough pressure on Israel to halt settlement building in the West Bank and say any prospect of creating a viable, independent state is fading fast.

In the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, a fierce rival of the Western-backed Abbas, Palestinian opposition to Obama's visit was more militant.

Guerrillas fired two rockets at southern Israel in the early morning, causing only slight damage, in a signal that the world should not ignore them in any discussions on regional diplomacy.

Dozens of protesters in Gaza city smacked pictures of Obama with the soles of their shoes, burned U.S. flags and chanted that the president should "get out of Palestine".

Additional reporting By Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Alistair Lyon

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