Billionaires miss rich list

For the first time being a billionaire isn't enough to guarantee you a place on the Forbes magazine annual rich list.

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates remains the richest person in America for the 14th year in a row, followed by investor Warren Buffett.

The pair's fortunes each grew by $6 billion ($A6.9 billion) in the past year, according to Forbes, with Mr Gates' fortune now at $59 billion ($A67 billion) and Mr Buffett $52 billion ($A59 billion).

Mr Buffett has pledged 85 percent of his net worth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and family charities.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson ($A32 billion), head of Las Vegas Sands Corp, and software tycoon Larry Ellison ($A29 billion), chief executive of Oracle Corp, remain at No 3 and No 4 on the 25th annual ranking of 400 rich Americans, which now requires a minimum net worth of $A1.49 billion for inclusion.

"The collective net worth of those listed on the 400 this year rose $290 billion ($A333 billion) to $1.54 trillion ($A1.77 trillion) ," Forbes said. "Despite market jitters, nearly half of the 45 new members come from hedge fund and private equity investments."

Waltons miss out

For the first time since 1989 there are no members of the Walton family, descendants of Wal-Mart Stores Inc founder Sam Walton, in the top 10. Four members – Jim, Christy, Robson and Alice – slipped to 12th and 15th place.

The Waltons were displaced by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who came in at No 5 with fortunes of $18.5 billion ($A21.31 billion), and brothers Charles and David Koch, who run Koch Industries, the world's second largest private company, and are each valued at $17 billion ($A19.58 billion), earning them 9th place.

Investor Kirk Kerkorian was the biggest gainer on the list, his fortune rising by more than $9 billion ($A10.37 billion) in the past year to $18 billion ($A20.7 billion). He debuted in the top 10 at No 7 — up from No 26 last year.

Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Inc, the world's second-largest PC maker, was No 8 on the list with a fortune of $17.2 billion ($A19.82 billion).

Of the top 400 richest Americans, Forbes said 270 were entirely self-made, 74 inherited their wealth and 39 are women. There were 82 American billionaires who did not make the list.

The youngest member, and new to the list, is 33-year-old hedge fund manager John Arnold, who came in at No 317 with a $1.5 billion ($A1.72 billion) wealth, while the oldest is 98-year-old John Simplot, valued at $3.6 billion ($A4.14 billion) and No 214 on the list.

Flood damage bill \’may exceed $210m\’

Floodwaters have steadied in the isolated Gulf of Carpentaria, but authorities estimate flood damage across Queensland will exceed $210 million.

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Floods have affected more than 62 per cent of the state, with 36 councils currently assessing damage to highways, roads and buildings.

The latest damage estimate is $210 million and rising, a spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts says.

The Barkly Highway in northwest Queensland has been significantly damaged.

The Insurance Council of Australia has received just under 100 flood claims. But the figure is expected to more than double as assessors move into areas that are currently isolated.

Carpentaria Shire Council chief executive Mark Kelleher says floodwaters have steadied in the shire.

Roads cut off

But he expects road access to Normanton and Karumba to remain cut for at least another month.

Army and air force personnel have located the problem with the town\’s drinking water pipeline but repairs are dependent on flood waters receding, Mr Kelleher says.

Premier Anna Bligh has promised a portable water treatment plant will be flown to Karumba within two or three days to ensure water supplies in the town.

Six tonnes of bottled water is being distributed to Karumba residents with a further six tonnes arriving later this week.

The weather bureau has issued flood warnings for the Burdekin River west of Ayr and the Diamantina, Georgina, Nicholson, Leichhardt, Flinders, Norman and Gilbert rivers.

Despite further flood warnings for the Thomson River in Longreach and surrounds, disaster management has been scaled down, an SES spokeswoman says.

There are also flood warnings for the Lower Mackenzie River, the Connors-Isaac Rivers and the Dawson River tributaries.

Troops patrol Peru quake town

Rescue crews were now focusing on aid efforts for tens of thousands of people left destitute by the massive earthquake.

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President Alan Garcia has threatened to impose a curfew to stop looting by angry mobs, with 200,000 people said to have been affected by Wednesday's magnitude-8 quake which left 500 dead and 1,600 injured.

"I have ordered to use the harshest measures and if needed to impose a curfew," Mr Garcia told reporters in Pisco, the town, 240 kilometres southeast of Lima, hit hardest by the quake.

More than 1,000 troops and police armed with assault rifles were patrolling the streets of the town which was 70 percent destroyed in the quake.

At least 500 dead

Police on Sunday released the latest official death toll in Pisco. The tally is likely to increase the overall toll in Peru's southern Pacific Coast, previously estimated at 500.

National police colonel Roger Torres told news agency AFP at least 308 people were confirmed dead in Pisco, including 160 worshippers who were crushed when the town's San Clemente church collapsed. Mr Torres believed a further 150 were still buried in rubble elswehere in the town.

Amid mounting reports of looting and assaults, President Garcia on Saturday ordered more troops to the quake-stricken southern area and promised that authorities would keep the peace "whatever the cost."

Many thousands were left homeless by the quake and on Sunday faced a fifth night sleeping in the streets in the chilly southern hemisphere winter.

Emergency workers meanwhile abandoned rescue efforts as hopes for finding any more survivors faded. "The possibility of finding someone alive is nearly nil," Jorge Molina, search and rescue operations chief for the local firefighters, told AFP.

Efforts would now focus on recovering the dead in the rubble and helping secure the distribution of aid, officials said.

Angry mobs

Desperate mobs have been looting trucks carrying food and water, and some people tried to break into the air force base where relief efforts have been centralized.

Close to the provincial capital of Ica, another mob tried to raid a convoy of trucks carrying emergency supplies.

In nearby Chincha, a group of people tried to break into a hospital believing it held emergency food supplies.

Spanish fire-fighters searching the rubble of the Pisco church with trained sniffer dogs also had to stop their work late Saturday when gunfire broke out around them.

Aid workers are also worried of the risk of an outbreak of disease in the town.

Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said some 1,500 doctors and nurses were struggling to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases among earthquake victims.

"The problem is not only that there are still unfound bodies, the problem is water," and how human waste is being disposed of, he said.

Fears over disease

There were fears of an outbreak of infectious diseases in the quake-stricken areas such as diarrhea and cholera, while a choking dust from the rubble of the town was causing respiratory problems.

Medical officials said Saturday that symptoms of respiratory infections have begun to emerge as a floating dust cloaks the town, and warned the situation could deteriorate into an epidemic if residents fail to take precautions.

A field hospital has been set up by 22 US doctors in the grounds of the Pisco football stadium.

Among aid from other countries, the French embassy in Lima said fire-fighters from France had arrived in Peru to help.

Aftershocks are also continuing to keep people on edge. Peru's geophysical institute reported more than 400 tremors following the quake, which was the most devastating to hit the country since 1970.

Aust 'enslaves' Aborigines

A Zimbabwean minister says that Australia has no right to criticise his country’s human rights record because Australia is "too busy enslaving Aborigines".

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Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu criticised Australia and Britain for attempting to be "custodians of human rights in Zimbabwe, (while) threatening not to attend the EU-AU summit if President Mugabe attends."

"Some western countries, in particular Britain and Australia, are self-appointed bullies who infringe on human rights in their own countries," he said.

"Australia is busy traumatising Zimbabwean children while neglecting and enslaving the Australian Aborigines," said Mr Ndlovu.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has threatened to boycott the summit, and Australia came under fire recently for expelling children of members of the inner circle of Mr Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

"Britain must stop the internationalisation of her bilateral problems with our country because of her abrigation of the agreement to pay for land acquisition and her illegal unconstitutional regime change hallucinations."

Mugabe would ‘divert attention’

Mr Ndlovu said if the EU puts pressure on the bloc's president Portugal to bar Mr Mugabe from attending December's summit in Lisbon, countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc and the African Union would not attend.

"That will be the EU's doomsday, not the AU, not SADC and certainly not President Mugabe and not Zimbabwe," he said.

Mr Brown said in a newspaper article he will boycott the key summit if Mr Mugabe is allowed to attend, saying the president's presence would divert attention from crucial issues.

The EU has imposed a travel ban on Mugabe, 83, and members of his ruling elite and Mr Brown said he would persuade the EU to extend the travel embargo to include the families of those targeted.

The travel ban has long hampered efforts to organise a second summit between the European Union and African states.

The first was held in Cairo in 2000.

Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, has said that it has no intention of discriminating against Mr Mugabe in relation to the December 8-9 summit in Lisbon.

Anglican leader appeals for unity

The leader of the world's Anglicans has called for understanding and unity at the end of the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in a bid to soothe a row over homosexuality in the church.

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The conference held in Canterbury, southeastern England, is a key event for the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has around 77 million followers led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The meeting has been overshadowed by a dispute about the consecration five years ago of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.

“We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board” to resolve the issues, Williams said in a closing address on Sunday before 650 bishops at the conference.

“And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages.”

Around 200 bishops, including those from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, boycotted the meeting, while there are moves by clergy from Africa, Australia and the US to create a breakaway group in protest at Robinson's consecration.

Church divided

“Our Communion longs to stay together – but not only as an association of polite friends,” added Williams. “It is seeking a deeper entry into the place where Christ stands, to find its unity there.”

Participants at the Lambeth Conference covered subjects including evangelisation, human sexuality, social justice and issues such as the environment and violence against women.

The church is divided between conservatives who argue that allowing gay and women bishops goes against Bible teachings, and liberals who want a more inclusive communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury appealed on Sunday for a “covenant of faith” that would “promise to our fellow human beings the generosity God has shown us”.

“I hope that, if part of the message of Lambeth '08 is that we need to develop covenantal commitments, and that one aspect of this might be what you call covenanted restraint, this will be seen in the context of a unity not enforced but given in Christ,” he said.

“To embrace deeper and more solid ways of recognising and trusting each other can be a grace not a burden; and when trust is deepened, more responsible and prayerful discussions can follow.”

Problems 'not overcome'

In total, about 800 bishops and archbishops were invited to attend the 20-day conference for intensive sessions of worship, study and conversation at the University of Kent campus.

“In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time,” Dr Williams said.

“We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition – though still with many questions – that a Covenant is needed.”

He added that a series of meetings would be held as soon as next year to discuss moving towards a covenant.

Robinson, the first Anglican bishop to live openly in a gay partnership, was not invited to the conference but held events on the sidelines.

The 61-year-old insists he is not alone among the Anglican communion's clergy in being gay, and says he has come to Britain, against the wishes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to lend them his support.

“I have no interest in being a martyr, I'm just trying to be a good bishop,” Robinson said in an interview over the weekend.

Call to reintroduce protection visas

Five people died and dozens were seriously hurt when a boat carrying 47 asylum seekers exploded off Ashmore Reef last week.

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The accident has led opposition politicians to claim the government\’s asylum seeker policies are “soft” and must be tightened to help deter people smuggling.

“The government abandoned (TPVs) in August because it said it had had no effect, events since then suggest that they were wrong,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

“The reintroduction of temporary protection visas should be high on the agenda.”

Temporary Protection Visas were introduced by the Howard Government in 1999, as a way of deterring unauthorised arrivals into the country.

Government view \’not credible\’

Mr Turnbull said the objective of Australia\’s policy should be to have no unauthorised boat arrivals.

“We don\’t want them, it\’s bad in terms of the integrity of our borders and it also poses enormous danger to life and limb on the high seas.

“In an ideal world no boats would come.”

The federal government says the increase in unauthorised arrivals is due to the migration \’push factor\’ in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

But Mr Turnbull says this view is “simply not credible”.

The government has to face the fact that the “the policy isn\’t working”, he said.

Rudd immigration policies \’soft\’

“They (policies) are not adequately protecting our borders… they\’re perceived as being soft and that is encouraging people smuggling.

“They (the government) have to change the policies.”

The Rudd government made changes to mandatory detention requirements to allow women and children to be detained in the community.

It also dismantled the previous Howard government\’s Pacific Solution to process refugees offshore under UN guidelines, without access to the Australian legal system.

Mr Turnbull said the Pacific Solution was “a discrimination against unathorised boat arrivals”.

Mr Turnbull said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had given the government advice on the impact of the relaxed policies.

Plea for bipartisan approach

“We need to see that advice… because it is plain enough that the government\’s policy is not working.”

He called on the government to take a bipartisan approach on immigration policy, and urged the government to release information on the explosion aboard the boat which was carrying more than 40 asylum seekers, mostly men from Afghanistan.

The explosion, which may have been the result of sabotage, claimed the lives of five people and injured dozens more.

Mr Turnbull said the government should stop playing games.

“They know full well what\’s happened, they\’ve known for some time, they should tell the truth.

“If the Rudd government wants to dispel the suggestion that it\’s a cover-up all it needs to do is tell the truth.”

Haneef police 'pushed boundaries of law'

Police involved in the case of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef pushed the boundaries of Australia's anti-terror laws, a legal forum has been told.

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Speaking at a public meeting in Sydney on Monday, some of the country's top legal minds said misinterpretation of the rules – and a 'better safe than sorry' mentality permeated the investigation.

The forum is part of an inquiry into why Gold Coast-based Dr Haneef was charged in connection with a terrorism plot in the UK, and how the case against him collapsed.

When Dr Haneef's second cousin Kafeel Ahmed blew up his car outside Glasgow Airport in June last year, the implications rippled out to Australia.

Last July, Dr Haneef was charged with supporting terrorism. The case collapsed two weeks later.

The inquiry heard that during the investigation, police operated with a 'better safe than sorry' attitude.

'Better safe than sorry' approach

“Throughout the Haneef case police were operating in the general shadow of Australia's anti-terror laws, guided more by a vague notion that those laws authorised a different and extraordinary approach,” said Ross Ray, of the Law Council of Australia.

The inquiry also heard that the public's fear of terrorism was manipulated.

“Fear is the most malleable of emotions, especially in politics. Yet fear can lead us in the wrong direction,” said former High Court Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan.

“It can lead us to destroy the freedom which marks our way of life and which terrorist would hope to destroy.”

Mohammed Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo protested his clients innocence and fought hard for his release. He feels it is important for the public to hear the truth behind the Haneef case.

“There are people who have a view about Mohammed even today which is probably contrary to what actually occurred in reality,” he said.

'Draconian' anti-terror laws

The forum heard that without public scrutiny, Dr Haneef would have spent much longer than 12 days imprisoned without charge.

But according to the law society, while the anti-terrorism laws that were used to hold Dr Haneef are draconian, they are only part of the problem.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews cancelled Dr Haneef's work visa. The Federal Court later ruled that he had acted inappropriately.

“The timing and effect of the minister's visa cancellation decision in the Haneef case, together with his many partial and political public comments, created an appearance of interference in the judicial process,” said Mr Ray.

The Inquiry is due to report back to the Federal Government by mid November.

Rocket attack injures up to 57

The strike is likely to add further pressure on the Israeli government to find a way to end the incessant rocket attacks.

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The rockets reportedly struck the Zikim base, which is located north of the Gaza strip.

While there was no information on the severity of the injuries to the soldiers, two helicopters and around 20 ambulances were at the scene shortly after the incident.

The toll is the worst from Palestinian rocket attacks in months, when two Israelis died in separate attacks earlier this year.

Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Israel would "without hesitation and without pity" launch counter strikes against militants who open fire from the Gaza strip.

Mr Olmert also ordered the army to draw up plans to curb the rocket fire, but held back from endorsing water and power cuts on Gaza's beleaguered population.

There's been increasing pressure on the Israeli PM to respond to the incessant rocket fire against southern Israel, after an attack was carried out outside a day care centre in the hard hit town of Sderot.

Militants in Gaza regularly fire rockets and mortar rounds at Israel and while most of their rounds fall in open spaces, some populated areas have often been hit.

"The cabinet decided to continue the intensive military operations against those involved in terror and rocket launching," Olmert's office said after a government meeting on the rocket attacks.

While the cabinet decided against punitive measures against the impoverished population of Gaza, it instructed the security services to develop a new operational plan.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as telling ministers that until Israel has completed development of a sophisticated rocket interception system, "the only solution is deep ground operations in Gaza."

"The time may be approaching where it will necessary to launch a major ground operation to stop the rocket fire," he said in a speech to directors of Israel's main arms manufacturing firms.

Hamas announces ceasefire

After exchanges of gunfire and an air strike punctured what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged was a “fragile” ceasefire, Gaza\’s Hamas rulers and other armed groups said they would silence their guns for the next seven days to give Israeli troops a chance to withdraw from the territory.

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“We in the Palestinian resistance movements announce a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and demand that enemy forces withdraw in a week and open all theborder crossings to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and basic goods,” Mussa Abu Marzuk, the deputy leader of Hamas\’s politburo, said in Damascus.

Dawud Shihab, a Gaza-based spokesman for Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction, said the truce would give an opportunity for Arab governments to put pressure on Israel to withdraw all its troops.

“During this period, the resistance is ready to respond to all efforts by the Egyptians, Turks, Syrians and Arabs that will allow for a total withdrawal of Israeli soldiers and the total opening of border crossings,” he told AFP.

More rockets fired into Israel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the halt in fighting a “window of opportunity” in terms of achieving a “lasting peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.

“There\’s no alternative to a two-state solution. Everyone must back the right of Israel to live as a Jewish state just as everyone must recognise the Palestinians\’ right to a Palestinian state,” Merkel said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Israel\’s ceasefire but said: “This is only a first step, it must go further.”

The delegation from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, earlier attended a summit in Egypt with Arab leaders aimed at shoring up the truce.

Egypt holds talks with Hamas

Egypt held separate talks with the Islamist Hamas group which rules Gaza and President Hosni Mubarak announced plans to host an international aid conference to help rebuild Gaza.

“This fragile ceasefire has got to be followed immediately, if it is to be sustainable, by humanitarian access… by troop withdrawals, by an end to arms trafficking,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in Egypt.

Israel urged to reopen Gaza crossings

In Jerusalem, Brown urged Israel to reopen crossings into Gaza.

After exchanges of gunfire and an air strike punctured what Olmert acknowledged was a “fragile” unilateral ceasefire, Hamas and other armed groups announced their own one-week ceasefire.

“(We) demand that enemy forces withdraw in a week and open all the border crossings to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and basic goods,” Mussa Abu Marzuk, the deputy leader of Hamas\’s politburo, said in Damascus.

Israel orders end to offensive

Olmert announced late Saturday that he had ordered an end to offensive operations in Gaza after 22 days of combat but that troops would remain in the territory and would fire back if attacked.

After the ceasefire came into effect at 2:00 am (0000 GMT), Gaza enjoyed its first bomb-free night in more than three weeks, but there were soon signs that the calm was unravelling.

As militants fired rockets and Israel launched retaliatory air strikes, troops shot dead an eight-year-old girl in the northern town of Beit Hanun and a 20-year-old man near Khan Yunis in the south, medics said.

“The government\’s decision allows Israel to respond and renew the fire if our enemy in the Gaza Strip continues its strikes,” Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“This morning they again proved that the ceasefire is fragile and it has to be reassessed on a minute-by-minute basis,” he said.

Gaza death toll at 1,300: medics

Gaza medics took advantage of the halt in the fighting to rush to areas which had been inaccessible, pulling at least 95 bodies from the rubble, including those of several children.

The discoveries brought the overall death toll since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to at least 1,300, the medics said, making it by far the deadliest Israeli offensive ever launched on the Gaza Strip.

Hamas hails \’victory\’

On the ground, as Hamas congratulated the Palestinians on “victory” from mosque loudspeakers, Gaza residents cautiously ventured out into the streets to survey the rubble that was once their homes.

“Everything has been completely destroyed,” said Yahia Karin, 54, as he surveyed the damage in Zeitun, a Gaza City neighbourhood ravaged by furious battles between Israeli ground troops and Hamas militants.

Abbas calls for complete withdrawal

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas repeated his call for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the reopening of the enclave\’s border crossings, saying Israel\’s truce was “important and necessary but insufficient.”

Reacting to the truce announcement from Damascus, government spokesman Mark Regev stressed that Israel was not a partner to any agreement with Hamas, a group which is sworn to the Jewish state\’s destruction.

“If Hamas does not attack Israel and does not provoke Israel, we will honour the ceasefire,” he said. “We do not want to stay in Gaza. We have no intention of occupying it, and we will withdraw as soon as the situation permits.”

New push for Middle East peace talks

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has arrived in Israel on a visit aimed at breathing life into faltering Middle East peace talks.

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Gates is due to meet his Israeli counterpart, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, before holding talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US officials said.

The Pentagon chief’s talks in Israel and Jordan coincide with high-level visits by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and a delegation led by President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, James Jones.

The latest round of US diplomacy with Israel comes as tensions between the two allies rise, and after criticism from an Israeli minister over Washington’s stance on Iran’s nuclear drive.

‘Candid, positive’ talks

Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor said comments from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Washington was “already resigned” to Iran gaining a nuclear weapon.

Special envoy George Mitchell arrived in Cairo yesterday, after holding “candid and positive” talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday.

Mitchell, who also met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv at the weekend, is expected to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later today.

Egypt, which has been mediating between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, and between Israel and Hamas for a prisoner swap that would release an Israeli soldier held in Gaza, is seen as key to encouraging Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The Middle East tour is Mitchell’s fifth visit to the region since he was appointed by US President Barack Obama to help revive foundering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Flurry of diplomatic activity

US President Barack Obama is determined to reach a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours in order to guarantee “stability, security and prosperity” in the region, Mitchell said.

“If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace.

“We will welcome the full cooperation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavour.”

The flurry of US diplomatic activity comes amid mounting friction between Israel and the US over Washington’s demand for a halt to Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem.

Israeli PM Netanyahu said the US envoy’s visits reflected the “strong and broad relationship between Israel and the United States” but acknowledged there are disagreements.