(photo credit: AP)
The Finance Ministry has so far provided only a small fraction of the funds needed to secure the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in May, a source from the Public Security Ministry said on Monday.
The relatively small amount of money that has been made available is being diverted away from security and towards the needs of local authorities seeking to improve infrastructure ahead of the pope's arrival, the source told The Jerusalem Post.
Just NIS 5 million of the NIS 43m. promised by the Olmert government to secure the visit have been transferred so far, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharanovtich said during a government meeting on Sunday.
The pope is scheduled to arrive in Israel in on May 11 and depart on May 15. Government ministries, the police and the General Security Service (Shin Bet) have drawn up a wide-ranging plan to prepare for the occasion.
"When they [the Finance Ministry] say the money is needed for infrastructure, and for fixing roads in Upper Nazareth, the money ends up with local authorities, and it does not go to securing the pope," the source said.
The Finance Ministry said in response that the "government has yet to decide on how the sources for funding the pope's visit will be allocated. We are aware of the government's decision that the visit will cost NIS 43 million."
The pope is expected to tour sites in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, the center of the country, and northern Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority. Within Israel, large numbers of officers will be especially assigned to secure the areas of his visit.
The Shin Bet has been charged with carrying out preliminary field work to ensure security before the pope lands, and will be given overall jurisdiction for the pope's convoy for the duration of Benedict's stay in Israel.
The Defense Ministry and the IDF will oversee the welcoming of the pope at Ben-Gurion Airport as well as his departure.
"A huge plan has been in the works at the Israel Police's National Headquarters. It includes field plans of the areas where the pope will be, and a briefing of commanders who will be on the ground. There's lots of work to do, and we've already started," Israel Police Operations Branch Spokeswoman Orit Friedman said last month.