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US Vice President Mike Pence headed for Egypt Saturday to begin a Middle East trip overshadowed by anger in the Arab world over Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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US Vice President Mike Pence's trip to the Middle East was delayed last month because of controversy over plans to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (AFP/File / JUAN MABROMATA)



US Vice President Mike Pence headed for Egypt Saturday to begin a Middle East trip overshadowed by anger in the Arab world over Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Pence had been due to travel to the region in December but controversy over President Donald Trump's decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem saw many planned meetings cancelled.

While the deadly protests that erupted in the Palestinian territories at the time have subsided, concerns are mounting over the future of the UN aid agency for Palestinians (UNRWA).

Washington has frozen tens of millions of dollars of funding for the cash-strapped body, putting at risk operations to feed, teach and heal hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian leadership, already furious over the Jerusalem decision, has denounced the US administration and had already refused to meet Pence in December.

But the vice president's press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said he would still meet the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Israel on the high-stakes four-day tour.

Pence will arrive in Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before travelling to Amman for a one-on-one meeting with King Abdullah II on Sunday.

- Key security partners -

The leaders of both countries, the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, would be key players if US mediators ever manage to get a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process off the ground, as Trump says he wants.

They are also key intelligence-sharing and security partners in America's various covert and overt battles against Islamist extremism in the region and Egypt is a major recipient of aid to help it buy advanced US military hardware.

Sisi, one of Trump's closest allies in the region, had urged the US president before his Jerusalem declaration "not to complicate the situation in the region by taking measures that jeopardise the chances of peace in the Middle East".

Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt's highest institution of Sunni Islam, cancelled a meeting with Pence in protest at the Jerusalem decision.

The head of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, did the same, saying Trump's move "did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people."

After Jordan -- the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem -- Pence will head to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

He will also deliver a speech to parliament and meet President Reuven Rivlin during the two-day visit.

Pence can expect a warm welcome after Trump's decision on Jerusalem, which Israelis and Palestinians alike interpreted as Washington taking Israel's side in the dispute over the city.


By AFP
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