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DeLay to Travel to Mideast

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), a staunch supporter of Israel, will depart this weekend for a tour of the Middle East, promoting what his aides described as a "Marshall Plan" for helping Palestinian communities.

During the trip, the Texas Republican is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (searchand Jordanian King Abdullah II, and address the Knesset, Israel's parliament, DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said.

"We're interested in providing direct assistance to Palestine by building hospitals, roads, bridges, schools to demonstrate, this is what democracy is," Roy said Friday.

DeLay is to meet Sunday in Israel with Russian Jews he helped immigrate to the United States years ago and to visit Yad Vashem (search), the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust. He plans to meet with Israeli orphans whose parents have been killed in fighting between Israel and the Palestinians as well as adult victims of the fighting.

DeLay also will visit a cafe in Israel that was rebuilt after being destroyed by a suicide bomber, Roy said.

"One of the goals will be to show we are not afraid of terrorism and are standing up in the face of terrorism," Roy said.

DeLay has long defended Israel's use of force against Palestinians, saying the Jewish state is acting in self-defense. He also frequently refers to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) as a terrorist.

Roy said DeLay has kept in close contact with high-level officials in the White House about the trip.

President Bush has been pushing a Middle East peace plan, known as the road map.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said DeLay is "an elected leader in Congress, and members of Congress frequently do go to the Middle East."

"Our views on this are very well known. We're trying to keep the parties focused on the path forward, keep them focused on the road map and work with them to keep them talking between themselves," McClellan said.

In a speech Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (search), a pro-Israel lobbying group, DeLay said, "Israel's liberation from Palestinian terrorism is an essential component of victory in the war on terror."

"It's a liberation we're talking about, not a mutually agreed upon cease-fire," he said.

DeLay received the Friend of Israel award last April from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (search), a Chicago-based organization.

The original "Marshall Plan (search)" was the mechanism the United States used for rebuilding Europe after World War II. It was developed by then Secretary of State George C. Marshall.