Israeli air space to be closed at start of pope's visit

Police helicopters to shadow pontiff while also securing Meron Lag Ba'omer festivities.

pope 298.88 (photo credit: )
pope 298.88
(photo credit: )
The air space in central Israel will be sealed off for 30 minutes on Monday to allow a helicopter convoy to transport Pope Benedict XVI to Jerusalem. After landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, the pope once again will be airborne, as he is flown by an Air Force helicopter to the capital. Police helicopters will accompany him, marking the start of an intensive aerial security operation that will see police pilots closely shadow the pontiff. On the ground, anti-terror police unit members and Special Patrol Officers will create rings of security around the airport during Benedict's arrival. Five to six thousand police officers will be involved with securing the pope every day during the five-day visit. In Jerusalem, the pope is expected to hold a mass prayer session with around 6,000 Christians, while police helicopters hover above, sending live images of the event to the police's central headquarters for analysis. A new command center at the police headquarters in Jerusalem has been launched to coordinate security for the visit, police announced last week. Senior police brass will be using the command post in future major events as well, police added. "This [the papal visit] is a historic event," Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. David Cohen said last week. "This visit has national and international implications from our perspective. We are committed to 110 percent success and zero errors during the visit." The pope is expected to visit 22 sites around Israel during his stay. On Wednesday, police helicopters will accompany the helicopter that will ferry the pope to Nazareth, where thousands of worshipers are expected to join him in a mass prayer. On Tuesday, some tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers are expected to center on Meron in northern Israel, where they will participate in the annual Lag Ba'omer celebrations near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai. The police's helicopter unit will be involved in securing that event, too. Police helicopters also helped secure the long-awaited Depeche Mode concern in Ramat Gan on Sunday evening, expected to attract tens of thousands of fans. "I don't want to say that ground police can't work without us. But I can say the efficiency of police work is greatly harmed without our assistance," Cmdr. Oded Shemla, head of the helicopter unit, told The Jerusalem Post.