May's 5-day papal visit set to cost NIS 43m.

Benedict also to go to PA; Peres will host him here.

Pope Benedict 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Government ministries, the police, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are gearing up for a May visit by Pope Benedict XVI and have drawn up a wide-ranging plan to prepare for the occasion, which is expected to cost the state NIS 43 million. Benedict is scheduled to arrive in Israel on May 11 and depart on May 15 in a visit that could improve the strained relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people. The pope has faced harsh reaction from Jewish groups and the German government since his decision to reverse an excommunication edict against Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The less-than-ideal state of relations has not deterred the Israeli government from classifying the visit as "high priority" and allocating large amounts of resources and funds. President Shimon Peres will act as Benedict's "national host," while minister-without-portfolio Haim Ramon has been appointed to oversee government preparations. In a draft plan of action that will be presented to the cabinet for a vote on Sunday, Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. David Cohen will be appointed head of operations for the pope's stay. A special command and control center will be manned by police. Israel Police Operations Branch Spokeswoman Orit Friedman said police planners have already begun their preparations. "This is a very important visit for Israel, one that is tied to the state's image, its diplomatic front and tourism [industry]," Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. "Major planning is underway at the Israel Police's national headquarters. It includes field plans for the areas where the pope will be, and briefings for commanders on the ground. There's lots of work to do and we've already started." The pope is expected to tour sites in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, and in the Center and North. Large numbers of police will be assigned to secure these areas. He will also visit sites in the Palestinian Authority. The Defense Ministry and the IDF will oversee security at Ben Gurion International Airport during Benedict's arrival and departure, while the Shin Bet, which is carrying out pre-visit field work, will have final say on all aspects of security. The Prime Minister's Office will be the highest governmental authority for the visit and will be responsible for all media communications. The Foreign Ministry will coordinate the pope's schedule with Vatican officials and set up a national media center. The Chief Rabbinate has been asked to "deal with all religious issues that emanate from a visit by such a senior Christian figure."