McCain backs Jerusalem as 'capital of Israel'
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John McCain expressed vigorous support for Israel during a Middle East visit, slamming Hamas and Hezbollah, while backing Israel's claim to hold Jerusalem as its capital. (Report: M.MacCarthy)
US Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Tuesday he supports Israel's claim to the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
"I support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," McCain said in Jordan before heading to Israel where he arrived late Tuesday.
Israel annexed Arab east Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war and declared it part of its eternal undivided capital, a claim not recognised by the international community.
The fate of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and renewed Israeli settlement activity in the occupied eastern part is hampering peace talks revived only in November.
The Palestinians, who want to make the eastern sector capital of their future promised state, said McCain's statements contradicted the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict laid out by US President George W. Bush.
"They do not represent the position of the US administration which considers all the Palestinian areas occupied by Israel in 1967, including east Jerusalem as occupied territories," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"They also contradict the two-state vision of president Bush," he said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The United States and other foreign governments maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.
In June, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Bush to move the embassy to Jerusalem and congratulating Israel "on the 40th anniversary of the reunification of that historic city."
A "Jerusalem Embassy Act" was passed by Congress in 1995, that "Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of the state of Israel." However, successive presidents have deferred the actual move by six-month periods.
McCain, the Republican nominee for the November race for the White House, insisted that he supported the Middle East peace process.
"I am committed to pursuing the Israel-Palestinian peace process and make it a high priority," he told reporters after he toured the Roman Citadel site in downtown Amman.
"I know that the people of Israel and the Palestinian people want to see a peaceful settlement as both sides suffered enormously," he said.
"I think it will be enormously helpful if... Gaza is not governed by an entity that is committed to the extinction of the state of Israel."
McCain was referring to the Islamist movement Hamas, which in June evicted Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's forces from the Gaza Strip and seized control of the territory.
"One of the fundamentals of moving a peace process forward is recognising that the person you are negotiating with (has) the right to exist. I hope that is made clear by the United States government."
He also held talks with King Abdullah II, a key US ally, who urged Washington to "continue playing an effective role" in advancing the peace process, the palace said.
The Arizona senator was welcomed in Jerusalem by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
McCain was to tour Israel by helicopter with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday to acquaint himself with its security problems, the minister's office said.
He was also to hold talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
McCain, who visited Baghdad on Sunday has voiced concern at what he said was Iran's influence in Iraq and its support for the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
"If we pull out of Iraq, then obviously the Iranian influence is dramatically increased," he said.