Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left for a five-day visit to the Middle East on Tuesday amid ongoing fighting in the Palestinian territories where Israel has been carrying out a military offensive and concerns back home that North Korea might test-launch more missiles.

Israel has expressed hope that Koizumi might help deliver a message from Jerusalem to the Palestinian authorities during his visit, as the two sides are in serious conflict over an Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian militants.

Koizumi, the second Japanese prime minister to visit Israel, will also stop in Jordan before heading on to St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday for the summit of the Group of Eight nations.

On the domestic front, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said he will be acting on the prime minister’s behalf while Koizumi is away.

After arriving in Tel Aviv on a government plane Tuesday evening, Koizumi was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

He will also pay an official visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, as well as have a reunion with Israeli and Palestinian youths he met last August at a Tokyo event.

The next day he will travel to Ramallah to lay a wreath in memory of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Koizumi is expected to urge Olmert and Abbas to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict and will convey Japan’s offer to resume suspended humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.

Olmert told foreign news media Monday in Jerusalem he plans to discuss with Koizumi nuclear arms issues involving North Korea as well as Iran, which has maintained a hostile policy toward Israel.

Japan’s humanitarian assistance package will not be extended directly to the Palestinian authorities, but through international organizations such as the U.N. Development Program, UNICEF and the World Food Program, as well as through nongovernmental organizations, a Foreign Ministry source said.

In Jordan, Koizumi will attend a dinner Thursday hosted by King Abdullah and meet Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit the next day.

Koizumi and al-Bakhit are expected to sign documents on economic cooperation after their talks.

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