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Obama tries to balance solidarity and neutrality

The latest stops in his Mideast tour included the rocket-besieged Israeli town of Sderot and the West Bank town of Ramallah.

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US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, seeking to send signals of support to both sides of the conflict.

But Senator Obama's latest stop in his multinational tour was a whirlwind primer in trying to simultaneously express solidarity and neutrality in the political minefield that is the Middle East.

"I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel's security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a US senator or as president," Obama said during a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Such comments sound positive to Israelis, but are frustrating Palestinians and other Arabs, who were hoping that Obama's pledge for change would include a more evenhanded approach. Obama made a short visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but made no comments to the press.

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