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Trump visits Israel after urging Middle East to purge ‘evil’


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Washington, May 22 (IANS) US President Donald Trump was on Monday set to land in Israel to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a day after urging Arab and Islamic leaders to unite and "drive out" terrorists while toning down his own harsh rhetoric about Muslims.

Trump’s Israel visit comes after he delivered a powerful speech at the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Riyadh on Sunday.

The US President will hold talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and also address regional security issues during the course of his two-day stop, CNN reported.

Trump, while addressing the leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries in Saudi Arabia, sought to redefine his relationship with the Muslim world after making a slew of Islamophobic remarks on the campaign trail, calling for a ban on Muslims and declaring "Islam hates us".

He described the battle against terrorist groups as a "battle between good and evil" as he told Muslim-majority countries to redouble their counterterrorism efforts.

Trump rejected the idea that the fight against terrorism was a struggle between religions.

"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilisations," Trump said.

"This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil," he said.

While Trump said that he was "not here to lecture" the Muslim world, his speech went beyond outreach.

In his most forceful argument, Trump exhorted Muslim-majority countries to do more to eradicate terrorist groups that claim the mantle of Islam, urging Muslims to "drive out" terrorists.

"Drive them out," Trump said, adding "Drive out the terrorists. Drive out the extremists. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land and drive them out of this Earth."

Middle Eastern countries "cannot wait for American power", Trump said, but must instead "decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children".

In a departure from the Islamophobic rhetoric he often deployed on the campaign trail, Trump acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism are Muslim, calling Islam "one of the world’s great faiths".

He also dismissed "Islamists" as the "footsoldiers of evil," with no religious legitimacy, effectively putting distance between Islam and the ideology that fuels terrorist groups like the Islamic State.

Trump’s measured tone was a far cry from his incendiary language on the campaign trail last year, when he called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the US.

The speech came as the Trump administration defends his executive order banning visitors from six Muslim-majority countries, which was blocked in federal court.

Despite his toned down rhetoric, Trump warned the leaders gathered in Riyadh on Sunday that inaction on their part would bring "suffering, death, despair", CNN reported.

Trump’s Israel visit is the second of his three stops aimed at highlighting the importance of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions.

He arrives in Israel after visiting Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest sites in Islam, and will next head to the Vatican.

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