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Israel

Obama ends Israel visit with symbolic tour of Holocaust memorial

US President Barack Obama ended his trip to Israel with a visit to two powerful national symbols. After paying his respects at the graves of two of the country's heroes, he visited the Holocaust memorial.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses for a moment as he lays a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS)

Obama in Israel

On the last day of his visit to Israel, US President Barack Obama paid his respects at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

After touring the site, Obama, said the memorial represented a need to confront bigotry and racism, "especially anti-Semitism."

Obama pays tribute to victims

The memorial, Obama told reporters, illustrates the depravity to which people can sink, adding that it is a stark reminder of the rescuers and the "righteous among nations who refused to be bystanders."

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a survivor of the Buchenwald Concentration camp, who lost both parents in the Holocaust, accompanied Obama as he visited the Hall of Names, a circular chamber that includes original testimony documenting all identified Holocaust victims.

"Nothing could be more powerful," Obama said after his tour of Yad Vashem.

Earlier in the day, Obama who was accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, laid wreaths at the tomb of the founder of modern Zionism Theodor Herzl and the grave of a murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who has become a symbol of the peace process.

Before leaving for Jordan later on Friday, Obama is to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Anticipated speech 

Hundreds of students packed into an auditorium in Jerusalem on Thursday to hear a highly anticipated speech by US President Barack Obama during his first official trip as president to Israel. The US leader received resounding applause throughout the address during which he expressed his support for the Jewish state, but also did not shy away from criticizing its policies in the region.Prior to the visit, critics of Obama had accused him of wavering support for Israel.

"It's important to be honest, especially with your friends," said Obama. "I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future."

Israelis not alone

"As long as there is a United Sates of America, you are not alone," Obama told the university students.

Obama called Hezbollah a terrorist organization and called on international leaders to stop supporting it. The militant group is currently in power in Lebanon and a known partner of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but the European Union has declined to call it a terrorist group.

Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon for Israel's and the world's sake, Obama stressed, adding that diplomacy between neighboring populations, not with governments, remained the best way to stop Tehran from carrying out its threats.

"Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation," Obama said.

Obama's first official trip to the region was not expected to produce concrete peace plans.

Obama is due to fly to nearby Jordan in the afternoon for talks with King Abdullah, one of the US' key Middle East allies, about an array of pressing regional problems, including the civil war in neighboring Syria and the influx of refugees into the country.

jlw,rg/pfd (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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