Washington: President Barack Obama on Wednesday is expected to offer Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fresh U.S. aid for Gaza as Washington seeks to contain the fallout over Israel`s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Hosting Abbas at the White House, Obama will also try to ensure that heightened Middle East tensions over last week`s deadly Israeli commando operation do not derail sputtering U.S.-led peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
He will face a difficult balancing act.
Obama is likely to assure Abbas he will press Israel to loosen its Gaza blockade and allow in more humanitarian supplies, but at the same time the U.S. leader wants to avoid further strains between Washington and the Jewish state.
Abbas` visit comes amid an international backlash against close U.S. ally Israel after its forces boarded a Turkish aid ship bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on May 31 and nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.
The Palestinian leader will urge Obama, who has been more measured in his response to the flotilla raid than the broader international community, to take a tougher line with Israel.
"President Abbas will ask for President Obama`s intervention to unconditionally lift the siege on the Gaza Strip because this would be the only way to defuse tension," Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, told.
The Obama administration has deemed "unsustainable" the three-year-old blockade, which Israel says is needed to stop weapons smuggling and Palestinians call collective punishment.
Expectations for a major breakthrough are low when the two leaders meet. But having pledged to help ease Gaza`s plight, Obama will not send Abbas home empty-handed.
"The President and President Abbas will discuss steps to improve life for the people of Gaza, including U.S. support for specific projects to promote economic development and greater quality of life," a senior Obama administration official said.
Obama`s pledge will include a "long-term strategy for progress that we will advance through consultations with the Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians and other partners."