New York governor, officials head to Israel
Albany - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and top state legislators are heading to Israel this week for a two-day visit as a "demonstration of solidarity" with that country in the conflict in Gaza, the Democratic governor announced on Sunday.
Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein will travel to Israel on Tuesday. Cuomo said the delegation would meet with Israeli leaders and visit residents affected by the fighting.
"Friends stand together in times of crisis, and I am proud to lead this bipartisan delegation to Israel to reaffirm our friendship and support," Cuomo said in a statement emailed to reporters.
"New York has always had a special relationship with Israel. As Hamas and other terrorist organisations continue to threaten Israel, now is the time to deliver that message of solidarity in person," he said.
Others accompanying the delegation include Cuomo's brother-in-law, designer Kenneth Cole, and publisher Mort Zuckerman.
New York has 1.7 million Jews, the largest concentration outside of Israel, a fact Cuomo noted in announcing the bipartisan trip.
"We are grateful for the governor's support and words of encouragement," said Ido Aharoni, Israel's consul general in New York.
Much of the world's attention has focused on the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza war, with more than 1 900 killed, including at least 450 children, Palestinian health officials say.
But Israel says its airstrikes aim to stop rocket fire into Israel by Gaza militants and that it targets sites of rocket launchers and militants' command and control, which were tightly interwoven with the population.
Israel says it does its utmost to avoid hitting civilians, warning them to leave areas about to be attacked.
Silver, who is Jewish, said the importance of the bipartisan trip could not be overstated. Silver and Klein are Democrats; Skelos is a Republican.
"I believe it is essential that the Empire State's leaders express our solidarity with Israel and its people, especially during these difficult times," he said.
The visit comes after an Israeli invitation and may help Cuomo quiet questions about his administration's handling of an anti-corruption commission. Cuomo faces accusations that a top aide pressured the commission not to probe groups linked to the governor. Manhattan's federal prosecutor has now taken over the commission's work.
Cuomo's office said this will be Cuomo's fourth trip to Israel.