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Israeli president to visit White House next week

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres is coming to Washington on April 5
  • He and President Obama will discuss the turmoil in the Middle East
  • Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has increased in recent weeks

Washington (CNN) -- As several of Israel's neighbors deal with tumult in the streets, the Jewish state's President Shimon Peres will visit President Barack Obama for the first time in nearly two years, a White House press release said.

During a working lunch on April 5, the two leaders plan to discuss U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, recent developments across the Middle East, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors, the White House said.

The longstanding friendship between Israel and the United States has become strained since Obama took office in 2009, often regarding the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian-controlled territory annexed by Israel from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967.

Last month, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States does "not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity" and that it is "corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, but to Israel's future itself."

However, the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution branding Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank "illegal," causing Palestinian officials to label the U.S. policy "biased."

Both Israelis and Palestinians have been victimized in recent attacks in the West Bank, as the decades-long, on-and-off violence between the two groups has accelerated in recent weeks.

In addition, Israelis have been trading fire with Palestinians based in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled territory Israel captured from Egypt in the Six Day War, but then abandoned in 2005.

Israeli airstrikes in southern Gaza killed one Palestinian and seriously wounded another Wednesday morning, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

The Israeli military said it had "targeted and hit a terrorist squad... which had launched rockets towards Israeli communities."

The exchanges on the Gaza border, as well as the first bombing in Jerusalem since 2004, have inflated tensions in Israel. But then, tension has become the norm across the region in 2011, with everything from isolated protests to full-scale revolutions sweeping Arab countries across North Africa and the Middle East.

The ongoing turmoil in Syria, to Israel's northeast, is of special concern in Israel. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is blaming a tide of dissent on an alleged Israeli conspiracy.

"The [Assad] regime, if things really start to get desperate, could turn matters south with some sort of provocation against Israel," said Jonathan Spyer, an analyst who used to work in the Israeli prime minister's office.

On Israel's western border, the recent ouster of Egpytian President Hosni Mubarak, who always had honored the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egpyt and Israel, has not led to any breach of that peace treaty.

CNN's Kevin Flower and Shira Medding contributed to this report