10,000 policemen to secure Bush visit

Protests and traffic jams expected in Jerusalem during US president's three-day stay next week.

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In one of the largest security operations in years, more than 10,000 Israeli police officers will secure US President George W. Bush's visit to Jerusalem next week, police said Wednesday. The three-day visit, which gets under way on Wednesday, will see a total of 10,450 police officers on the streets of Jerusalem to safeguard the president and his entourage during his stay, Jerusalem police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco said at a police briefing. No security threats against Bush have been received by police, Franco added. The police will be out in their largest numbers since the landmark 2000 Jerusalem visit of Pope John Paul II, and the 1998 visit of former US president Bill Clinton, Franco said. The total number of police forces to be deployed in Jerusalem during Bush's 48-hour visit to Israel even surpasses the 8,000 police officers that oversaw Israel's pullout from Gaza two years ago. The visit, which has been dubbed by police as Operation Clear Skies, is expected to cause major traffic jams throughout the city as police close off central Jerusalem thoroughfares. In an effort to alleviate expected traffic backups, Bush will come to Jerusalem by helicopter from Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday afternoon, landing at the city's Givat Ram Stadium - allowing the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway to remain open, Franco said. Police will completely close off King David Street, where Bush will be staying, during the three-day visit, while nearby city roads will be periodically closed when Bush leaves his hotel. Jerusalem residents will not be allowed to park their cars on certain streets near Bush's hotel and along the route of his entourage beginning Tuesday night. "Our goal is to reduce to a minimum traffic jams in the city," Franco said, urging city residents to be extra patient during the visit, and allot extra time for travel in the city. Police are also bracing for expected protests by supporters of imprisoned American spy Jonathan Pollard, Franco said. On a previous visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Pollard supporters were able to breach security, and get to the floor of her Jerusalem hotel room, although the level of her security detail was much lower than that planed for the president. Israeli rightists will be holding two protests the day before Bush's arrival, including a human chain around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, and a demonstration at the entrance to the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, where recent Israeli plans to construct more than 300 new homes have been met with international criticism. In addition, an Israeli-Arab party is planning to hold a demonstration in central Jerusalem on the day of Bush's arrival against US policy in Iran. After his arrival on Wednesday afternoon, Bush will meet with President Shimon Peres at his official residence, and then head over to the prime minister's residence for an evening meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and joint press conference. On Thursday, he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, where he will be making a quick trip by helicopter, and then return to Jerusalem for the evening. Bush is also expected to host Olmert and Abbas for a three-way summit meeting aimed at accelerating peace talks launched in the US in November on the conflict's core issues. Bush will visit Yad Vashem on Friday and then head to northern Israel by helicopter, before leaving the country. Barring any last-minute changes, Bush is not planning to visit the Old City of Jerusalem during his stay, due to security considerations, officials said. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality on Wednesday beginning putting up 1,500 Israeli, American and Jerusalem city flags in the capital ahead of the presidential visit.