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Obama lays stone from MLK memorial on grave of Israeli PM slain for trying to make peace

Barack Obama on Friday laid a stone from the grounds of the Washington memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. on the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister assassinated by a Jewish extremist enraged by his efforts to make peace with Palestinians.

"Sometimes it is harder to embark on peace then to embark on war," Rabin's daughter Dalia quoted Obama as telling the family at the grave site on Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, Reuters reported.

In a televised speech Thursday, Obama appealed to ordinary Israelis to put pressure on their leaders to make a peace deal with the Palestinians. He urged Israelis to put themselves in Palestinians' shoes and recognize their right to "self-determination, their right to justice."

On Friday, the president also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

He spoke of the "wrenching power" of the memorial to the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II, calling it a "sacred place."

"The state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again," Obama said.

At the national cemetery, Obama laid another stone — as is customary at Jewish cemeteries — on the grave of the man after which it was named, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism who died in 1904 before realizing his dream of a Jewish homeland.

"It is humbling and inspiring to visit and remember the visionary who began the remarkable establishment of the State of Israel," Obama wrote in the Mt. Herzl guestbook, according to The Associated Press. "May our two countries possess the same vision and will to secure peace and prosperity for future generations."

'Won Israeli hearts'

Obama also toured the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In the church, Obama was greeted by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, and Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Sevan Gharibian.

An editorial Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said "Obama’s goal in coming to Israel has been achieved."

"He won Israeli hearts and gave Israelis a sense of security, in the hope that now they will take charge and push the leadership toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians," it added.

The Jerusalem Post said primarily leftist commentators had "lamented" that Obama’s visit had not focused mainly on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Americans understand that it is not their country’s support for Israel that triggers the rabid hatred of America felt by so many citizens of Muslim states. Rather, it is what America stands for — freedom, liberty, tolerance, democracy — that is viewed by popular movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, with its reactionary worldview of restoring the caliphate and Sharia [law], as the real threat to the region and to Muslim sensibilities," it wrote.

"Washington’s Herculean attempts in recent years to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict emanate from a desire to see both Israelis and Palestinians flourish in free, democratic states of their own. The vast majority of Israelis share that dream. Unfortunately, the majority of Palestinians still do not," it added. "A majority of Americans and their president are increasingly recognizing this sad fact. Others have yet to do so."

Later Friday, Obama flew to Amman, Jordan, where he had talks with the country's King Abdullah, an important ally of the U.S. in the region.

Obama concerned about Syrian extremists

At a press conference, Abdullah said his country was struggling to cope with the flood of refugees who had fled to Jordan from conflict-stricken Syria — about 460,000, roughly equal to 10 percent of Jordan’s population.

This, he said, was the equivalent of 30 million refugees arriving in the United States, relative to the U.S. population. One refugee camp was now the fifth largest city in Jordan, Abdullah said.

Obama said his administration was working with Congress to provide Jordan with an additional $200 million in aid this year. The United States already is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

He said the United States had worked to establish a credible political opposition to Syria's President Bashar Assad, whose ouster, he said, was a matter of when, not if.

However, Obama said the situation in Syria would likely be difficult for some time to come and he was "very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism."

"Extremism thrives on chaos, they thrive in failed states, they thrive in power vacuums," he said. "They don’t have much to offer when it comes to building things."

Asked about the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, Obama said he wanted to see a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that Iran could end it by satisfying the international community that its nuclear program was purely peaceful as it insists.

"This is a solvable problem — if in fact Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon," he said. He reiterated that he had not ruled out military action to prevent Iran getting the bomb.

King Abdullah said the Middle East already had too many problem.

"Any military action, whether Israeli or Iranian, to me at this stage is Pandora’s box, because nobody can guarantee what the outcome will be," he said. "We just don't need another thing on our shoulders."

Obama is due to return to the United States on Saturday.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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