United States Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening at the height of a terrorist rampage in the country.
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He was sitting with former President Shimon Peres in the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa as people were being stabbed in Jaffa Port, less than a kilometer away.
At one point during the meeting, one of Peres' aides entered the room and informed Peres about the attack. Biden, who one of the participants in the meeting described as being outraged, asked for all the details. He said that the American government would publish a harsh condemnation of the attack. Biden did not know at the time that the tourist killed in the Jaffa attack was an American.
Later, Biden released an official condemnation: "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal attack which occurred in Jaffa. there is no justification for such acts of terror," Biden said. The VP expressed his sorrow at the tragic loss of American life and offered his condolences to the family of the American citizen murdered in the attack, as well as his wishes for a full and quick recovery for the wounded.
In his opening remarks during the meeting with Peres, Biden said that the U.S. was committed to Israel's security and that he hoped the two countries would deepen their mutual ties even further.
Biden will spend two days in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on Wednesday, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas..
The vice president was received at Ben-Gurion Airport by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Israel ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer.
A White House official said on Friday that no major breakthroughs on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expected during Biden's visit.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said that Biden's visit is a testament to the strong ties between the two countries.
"There have been those who have already predicted the collapse of this relationship – but that is not the case," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. "The ties are strong at all levels, and also with regards to the challenges that we share in our region. I will of course discuss this with the vice president during his visit."
Biden's visit to Israel comes against a backdrop of tensions over Netanyahu's cancellation of a trip to Washington later this month. The prime minister had planned to attend the conference of the pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, but cancelled the visit on Monday, citing various reasons.
The White House was outraged at the cancalation, after it was reported that among the reasons given for scrapping the trip was that it was not possible to schedule a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. According to the White House, Netanyahu was in fact invited to meet the president and the adminstration only learned of the cancellation through the media.