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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli guards will not accompany Pope Benedict XVI into Bethlehem next week, IDF sources said on Wednesday.
The Israeli security detail that will accompany Benedict throughout his visit in Israel will hand over responsibility for the convoy to the Palestinian Authority's Presidential Guard at the Rachel's Tomb crossing next Wednesday for the duration of the pontiff's visit to Bethlehem.
Benedict will visit a UN school in a refugee camp near Bethlehem and then conduct mass at the Church of the Nativity. In the afternoon he will return to Israel.
On Wednesday, the head of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, met with senior PA security officials to finalize details of the pope's visit to the West Bank. The sides agreed to open a joint command center at the Etzion Brigade Base, near the Alon Shvut settlement, which will be manned by IDF soldiers and Palestinian security officials.
The civil administration has also arranged for the Israel Electric Corporation and the Water Authority to be on standby to provide any needed additional resources to the Bethlehem Municipality during Benedict's visit to the city.
The IDF has issued 18,000 permits to Palestinians from the West Bank so they can enter Israel for the duration of the pope's visit and attend the prayer service he is scheduled to hold near Nazareth.
All in all, some 80,000 Israeli security personnel will protect the visit of the pope.
The security operation, codenamed Operation White Cape, will see 60,000 police officers and 20,000 other security personnel take part in arrangements surrounding the visit, with at least 5,000 to 6,000 officers involved each day.
Undercover policemen will be activated alongside Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agents, and the Border Police will also be called upon to help secure the visit.
"We have practiced a range of scenarios, from the small-scale to the large, and will hold daily intelligence assessments. We are fully prepared," Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.