Obama departs Washington for 4-day visit to Israel

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE (AFP) - Mr Barack Obama departed late on Tuesday en route to Israel for a four-day trip to the Middle East, a journalist traveling with the US president said.

The president's airplane, Air Force One, took off from Andrews Air Force Base outside the US capital.

US officials have styled Mr Obama's trip as an effort to reconnect with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had a delicate relationship during his first term, and to coordinate on key issues like Iran and Syria.

Mr Obama will also travel to see Palestinian leaders on the West Bank and visit Jordan on the first foreign policy mission of his second term.

Administration officials have signaled that there will be no major peace initiative during the trip, with Mr Obama stating he is travelling to the region to "listen" to both sides.

He will meet Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his premier Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, to hear their perspective on how to resolve the decades-long conflict.

"My goal on this trip is to listen. I intend to meet with Bibi (Netanyahu) ... I intend to meet with Fayyad and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?" Mr Obama told Israeli television.