Security concerns prompt Peres to hold ceremony at Beit Hanassi

Farewell ceremony usually held on tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport; honor guard soldiers asked to remove shoes.

When the president or prime minister goes abroad on an official visit, the farewell ceremony is usually held on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. However, with intensified security measures in place for both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Peres decided it would be wiser, less time-consuming and less frustrating for all involved to hold the ceremony for his trip to Turkey at Beit Hanassi. Even so, the stringent security inconvenienced a lot of people and humiliated others. Barriers were put across the road at two major intersections on either side of Rehov Hanassi, hindering morning rush-hour traffic and delaying pedestrians. By and large, the red-carpet ceremony was closed to the media. The Jerusalem Post obtained permission to attend, but this reporter was only admitted after a heated argument with security officers that attracted the attention of the president's security detail. The soldiers in the presidential honor guard, meanwhile, were all asked to remove their shoes as part of the security check. Inside the grounds of Beit Hanassi, Olmert stood slightly aside from other members of the government in an enclosure that appeared to be a security precaution. Also present were representatives of the IDF, the Israel Police, the diplomatic corps and the religious communities. Education Minister Yuli Tamir arrived after the ceremony had already begun, and took her place in the queue of well-wishers while Peres was shaking hands halfway down the line. Peres thanked them all for attending and said he was pleased that this government had made the quality of the environment a priority on its agenda. He said he was going on an important mission to a country that had a significant role to play in the peace process. Israel's relations with Ankara were first-rate, he said, and he was proud to be going to Turkey as the representative of a strong - albeit much smaller - country. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Peres bowed to the honor guard, and after the national anthem was played, he entered a waiting black limousine that bore the presidential emblem in place of license plates. Peres's military aid, Brig.-Gen. Shimon Hefetz, who was accompanying the president to Turkey, was attired in full dress uniform. Prior to assuming the presidency in mid-July, Peres was unofficially Israel's most frequent flyer, sometimes traveling overseas as often as three times in one week. However, his wings were clipped somewhat after he became the country's ninth president, and the trip to Turkey is only his second state visit. The first was to Italy in the first week of September. Arrangements have already been made for him to go to France in March. He is also planning a trip to the United States, and he has been invited to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in China. His staff has had to deal with many other invitations, and Peres may emulate his predecessor - at least where Europe is concerned - visiting three or four countries in the span of a week.