Friday November 27th, 2015 12:20PM

Panetta heads to Mideast; Syria high on the agenda

By The Associated Press
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta began a five-day Mideast trip Sunday to consult with the new Islamist leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and to meet with long-standing allies Israel and Jordan.

High on the agenda at each stop is expected to be the accelerating crisis in Syria, which potentially has grave implications for Israel. The Jewish state fears the unrest will spill over the border and that the long-quiet Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, will become a new Islamist front against Israel.

Syria has strong ties to Iran, Israel's most fearsome enemy, and to Palestinian and Lebanese militants who have warred with Israel. Jordan's worries include a potential refugee crisis on its border.

Panetta's press secretary, George Little, said the trip is intended to affirm a U.S. commitment to stability in the Middle East and North Africa at a time the U.S. military is shifting more of its attention to Asia.

"That will require strengthening traditional alliances with countries like Israel and Jordan and building strong partnerships with new democratic governments," Little said last week in previewing the trip.

Panetta will be in Jerusalem just days after a visit by U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has been highly critical of President Barack Obama's approach to Israel.

Panetta is expected to highlight U.S. cooperation with Israel on building more effective missile defenses, including the Iron Dome system that is designed to shoot down short-range rockets and artillery shells. That air defense system was developed in response to Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, who fired thousands of rockets, mostly short-range Katyushas, into northern Israel. The U.S. has provided $205 million for the project, and on Friday, Obama announced the release of a further $70 million.

In Tunis, Panetta plans to meet with his Tunisian counterpart as well as President Moncef Marzouki, leader of the small, secular Congress for the Republic party.

Panetta is scheduled to visit the North Africa American Cemetery near Tunis, resting place for 2,841 U.S. military members killed in the World War II invasion and occupation of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in 1942-43. Among them is Army Air Corps pilot Foy Draper, who won a gold medal in the 1936 Summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. 400 meter relay team. He was killed on a mission over Tunisia in January 1943.
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Doctors: Blood clot located in Clinton's head
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton developed a blood clot in her head but did not suffer a stroke or neurological damage, her doctors said Monday. They say they are confident that she will make a full recovery.
3:55PM ( 2 years ago )
Illinois Sen. Kirk to return a year after stroke
Nearly a year after a stroke left him barely able to move the left side of his body, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is expected to climb the 45 steps to the Senate's front door this week - a walk that's significant not just for Illinois' junior senator, but also for medical researchers and hundreds of thousands of stroke patients.
3:54PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 14 hours ago )
Obama grants reprieve to turkeys 'Honest' and 'Abe' during White House ceremony
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spared two turkeys named for one of the nation's most admired presidents, continuing a White House tradition that provides a refreshing sense of amusement and...
9:18PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 6 days ago )
World leaders vow vigorous response to Paris terror spree, but little indication of next steps
ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — World leaders vowed a vigorous response to the Islamic State group's terror spree in Paris as they opened a two-day meeting in Turkey on Sunday, with President Barack Obama call...
2:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Rash of E. coli cases in Pacific Northwest highlights problem of foodborne illnesses
SEATTLE (AP) — As Chipotle prepares to reopen its restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this week after an E. coli outbreak that sickened about 45 people, health experts say foodborne illnesses are mor...
1:40AM ( 2 weeks ago )