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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird kicks off Middle East trip Friday

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OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will be arriving in the Middle East today for a 10 day visit.

He'll start in Jordan where he`ll meet this weekend with King Abdullah and Jordan`s foreign minister before moving on to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Cyprus and Israel.

He also plans to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad where aid to the Palestinians will be a major topic.

Canada's five year $300 million commitment expires Sunday and Baird is making no promises to renew the aid which goes toward strengthening the Palestinian justice system, its private sector, and health and education programs.

He says he first wants to talk to the Palestinian leadership about their priorities, noting the Harper government has fundamental differences with the Palestinian Authority.

Ottawa is reviewing its aid commitment after the Palestinians won a historic UN General Assembly vote in November granting status to the Palestinians as a non-member observer state.

The Harper government is a staunch supporter of Israel, and Canada was one of nine countries in the 194-nation assembly that voted against the Palestinian statehood bid.

Baird was among those who expressed concerns the Palestinians would use their new status to file war crimes charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

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