By John King,Jessica Yellin
and Ben Brumfield, in CNNews
Jerusalem Onews -- U.S. President Barack Obama wraps up his trip to the
Middle East on Saturday with a walking tour of the ancient city of Petra in
city's breathtaking architecture features buildings partly carved into stone
cliffs and combines eastern culture with ancient Greek constructions. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
after a stroll through arid the landscape renowned for its colorful interplay
of light and shadow, the president will return to Washington, DC.
A last minute success
Just before departing for
Jordan on Friday, Obama scored a diplomatic coup when Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a 2010 commando raid that
killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla.
The apology, long sought
by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, eased strained feelings between
Turkey and Israel, two vital U.S. allies in the Middle East.
It happened in a phone
call to Erdogan during a final meeting between Obama and Netanyahu at an
international airport in Tel Aviv, minutes before Air Force One
departed for Jordan to complete the president's Middle East swing.
Obama hailed the development as an important step forward for both countries.
Jordan's refugee influx
Friday in Jordan, Obama
focused on the civil war in neighboring Syria, with King Abdullah
telling reporters that the conflict has caused 460,000 refugees to flood
his country and more were on the way.
That equals 10% of
Jordan's population, and the total could double by the end of the year,
the king said in asking for more help from the international community
as his country also deals with internal reforms in response to economic
woes that are raising public dissatisfaction.
Obama said he was
working with Congress to provide an additional $200 million to Jordan
this year to help deal with the refugee influx, but he remained
steadfast in his refusal to pledge U.S. military assistance to the
Syrian opposition movement.
Refugees flood Jordan town
However, Obama repeated past warnings that his stance on military involvement could change if the Syria uses chemical weapons.
Jordan is suffering from
refugee fatigue. Masses of people have fled there for from neighboring
countries whenever conflict was rife. The Syrian conflict comes on top
of the flood of refugees that came from Iraq just a decade ago.
The country is a close
U.S. ally and has been one of the most stable in the region, but it has
seen recent internal turmoil and discontent.
King Abdullah has a
reputation for benevolence, unlike autocratic rulers such as Syria's
Bashar al-Assad or deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. One house of
the Jordanian parliament is democratically elected.
However, a bad economy and allegations of corruption by public officials have stoked dissatisfaction with him.
In November, crowds took to the streets calling for King Abdullah's downfall because of rising gasoline prices.
More recently, comments
attributed to King Abdullah in the The Atlantic caused further anger
toward the king, who was quoted as calling the opposition Muslim
Brotherhood a "Masonic cult" and referring to tribal elders in his
country as "old dinosaurs."
The royal court says
some of King Abdullah's comments in the Atlantic Magazine article were
taken out of context by local Jordanian and international media outlets
who reported on the article.
In Israel, the last-minute diplomacy added a flourish to Obama's first visit to the Jewish state as president.
While the two nations
have a key strategic partnership, with the United States supplying
military aid and diplomatic support as Israel's most vital ally, Obama
and Netanyahu had famously frosty relations during the president's first
With both beginning new
terms after Obama's re-election last year and Netanyahu's recent
formation of a new government, the president's visit was an opportunity
to reset the relationship and signal unified positions on major issues
such as the Middle East peace process and Iran's efforts to develop a
Obama and Netanyahu met
several times during the president's three days in Israel, which also
included a state dinner where Israeli President Shimon Peres awarded him
the country's highest civilian honor.
Read: Obama goes over Netanyahu's head to the Israeli people
Before leaving Israel, Obama paid tribute to the father of modern Zionism in a symbolic visit to Theodor Herzl's grave.
Joined by Peres,
Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama also visited the
grave of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in
Obama placed a stone at
each grave from the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in
Washington in a gesture to link the African-American struggle for
freedom with the struggle by the Israeli people for a homeland.
The president also
visited the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, where he turned up the
"eternal flame" of remembrance of the millions of Jewish victims of Nazi
death camps in World War II.
Read: Obama, Netanyahu offer unified stance on Iran
Fairness for the Palestinians
In Israel, Obama urged young Israelis in a speech to pressure their leaders to seek peace with Palestinians.
He asked Israelis to
empathize with the plight of Palestinians, and he drew applause when he
criticized the Israeli government's controversial policy of building new
settlements in disputed territories.
Walking through Ramallah and Gaza, political differences become real
During a visit with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the West Bank, Obama
stressed the need for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians for
a two-state solution.
"The Palestinian people
deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with
it," he said at a news conference with Abbas, adding that Palestinians
deserve "a future of hope" and a "state of their own."
Abbas said the Israeli
settlements are "more than a hurdle to peace," calling them illegal and
saying it was Israel's duty to stop building them.
He envisioned a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as capital -- a scenario unacceptable to Israel.
Read: Obama: 'Peace is possible'