Tillerson lands in Egypt to kick off Middle East trip


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may make an unexpected visit to Israel amid soaring tensions with Iran and Syria, the Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday.

Egypt last week launched a large military operation against Islamist militants, focused on defeating Islamic State in the Sinai peninsula.

The lack of trust between Washington and Ankara grew after Turkey started an air and ground offensive in Afrin, Syria, against a Kurdish group known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG.

"These are some of our closest partners but they are also partners with whom we are facing some of the toughest issues that we have to face in the region, whether its terrorism, whether it's the future of U.S. assistance, whether it's the final defeat of ISIS (the Islamic State militant group)".

Tillerson's visit to Egypt is the second this year by a top-level USA official.

"The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment in continuing to support Egypt in its fight against terrorism and bringing security for the Egyptian people is steadfast and will continue".

Israel said it destroyed an Iranian drone that entered its airspace, and an Israeli plane was shot down over Syria.

Tillerson also will meet with foreign ministers about the next step in foiling Islamic State militants by stopping them at borders and deterring recruits.

"This relationship is essential to achieve stability in the region", he said.

Tillerson travels to Kuwait next to lead the U.S. delegation at two global gatherings - that of the 74 members in the US-led, anti-Islamic State coalition, and a conference on Iraqi reconstruction.

In Egypt, all opposition figures thought to pose a serious challenge to Sisi have pulled out of the race, accusing the government of underhanded tactics to ensure Sisi an easy win.

Sisi, a former military chief, gave the armed forces three months to clear Sinai of militants after more than 300 people were killed by gunmen at a mosque in Sinai in November.

The United States sees Egypt as an important ally in fighting terrorists, particularly Islamic State and its potent offshoot in the northern Sinai.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually from the United States.

"On the elections, we support a genuine and a credible electoral process, and we believe should guarantee the right for all citizens to participate freely and fairly", a US State Department official said ahead of Mr Tillerson's visit.

He also reiterated calls for free and fair elections in Egypt, where presidential polls are slated for next month.

"We discussed how to reach a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two state solution and the importance of maintaining USA efforts to reach this final settlement", Shoukry said. The United States has suspended US$195 million in military aid over concerns about human rights and democracy.

The UN General Assembly on December 21 voted 128-9 in favor of a draft resolution rejecting Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem, and the issue is certain to come up during Tillerson stop in Amman.