Arab MKs to boycott Bush's Knesset address

PM calls visit an "extraordinary gesture of friendship;" Bush: The Israeli people are our close friends.

israel 60 224 promo (photo credit: )
israel 60 224 promo
(photo credit: )
MKs Taleb A-Sanaa, Ahmed Tibi and Abbas Zakour (United Arab List) announced that they would boycott US President George Bush's Thursday address to the Knesset. The three Arab-Israeli MKs explained Wednesday that they would take the stance in protest of American's support for Israel's "political oppression, occupation, and aggressiveness." They also claimed that the United States strengthens terror and diminishes global stability. The US president arrived in Israel shortly after 11 a.m., his second visit to Israel in approximately four months. He was once again greeted in regal fashion when he landed in Ben-Gurion Airport to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary. His reception included a red carpet ceremony, complete with IDF band and honor guard, attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres as well as the entire cabinet and an assortment of dignitaries. They lined up and shook the US president's hand one by one. "We consider the Holy Land a very special place and we consider the Israeli people our close friends," Bush said upon his arrival. "Our two nations both faced great challenges when they were founded," he continued, as the leaders took turns at short speeches. "Our two nations have both relied on the same principles to help us succeed. We built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an almighty God ... and we built an enduring alliance to confront terrorists and tyrants." Also speaking on the tarmac, Olmert told Bush: "Your decision to celebrate this historic milestone with us is an extraordinary gesture of friendship and it's further evidence of your unending commitment to the security and well-being of our country." Peres also spoke, saying Bush "stood like nobody else on our side in sunny mornings and stormy weather. Your presence here permits us something that we really wanted to do, and that is to celebrate a real thanksgiving party to the United States from the depth of our heart." Upon completion of the formalities, the president flew by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he will attend ceremonies marking the state's 60th anniversary. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas called the Bush visit a "bad omen." "No greetings to you, Bush, on our holy land," said Hamas strongman Mahmoud Zahar. "Your people will punish you one day." Meanwhile, at the Kalandiya military checkpoint next to Jerusalem, a few dozen Palestinians threw stones at police. The police said they responded with riot control tactics, and the force was seen firing tear gas at the crowd. In the West Bank city of Nablus, soldiers flung tear gas to disperse a small crowd of protesters approaching an Israeli checkpoint on the town's edge. In one of the largest security operations in years, 14,000 Israeli police officers manned the streets of the capital, safeguarding the president and his entourage for their three-day visit. Police closed off central Jerusalem thoroughfares for the visit, dubbed by police "Operation Clear Skies 2." A police hotline, 1-700-50-20-30, offers residents information about street closures. Bush will attend an international conference hosted by Peres at the International Convention Center. He will head to Masada on Thursday morning, before returning to Jerusalem to address a special session of the Knesset at mid-day. On Friday, he'll meet with youngsters at the city's Bible Lands Museum, before leaving the country at 11:00 a.m. The president will then travel to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where he will meet over two days with a handful of leaders: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Iraqi leaders. Bush was also scheduled to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora but that was now in doubt in light of recent clashes between the US-backed government in Beirut and the Hizbullah-led opposition.