British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Israel Sunday, for his first official visit as Britain's premier.
Brown's two-day Mideast visit has been overshadowed by a claim from a Shiite militia holding five British hostages in Iraq that one of the captives killed himself.
Arriving in Israel, Brown met with President Shimon Peres. In a brief statement at the president's residence, he said the region needs an "economic road map for peace," including the development of industrial parks and housing projects and support for small businesses.
Brown said he supported those who understand that "the prospect of prosperity encourages people that the return to violence is something that is an unacceptable price to pay, and something that should be rejected."
Brown arrived in Israel after visiting Iraq, where he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and discussed the plight of the British hostages kidnapped by a Shiite group a year ago. Brown and demanded that the Shiite militia "immediately and unconditionally" release the Britons. The British government has yet to authenticate the group's claim.
Brown arriving in the presidential residence (Photo: AP)
Brown's first stop in Israel was Yad Vashem, the country's official Holocaust memorial, where he attended a ceremony for the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany.
Later, he traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and was to visit the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Brown called on Israel on to stop its settlement construction, and offered additional financial support and police training to the Palestinian government.
The British leader said economic prosperity was key to peace, and urged an easing of Israeli travel restrictions in the West Bank that have hindered commerce. He promised British support in developing housing, industrial parks and small businesses.
Brown is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, later Sunday evening.