Force of 80,000 to provide papal security in Israel

JERUSALEM (CNS) — An 80,000-person security force will provide security for the pope while he is in Israel, said an Israeli police spokesman.

On a daily basis there will be 30,000 police officers, undercover agents, and private security officers working, Police Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld said May 10. He said that of that number, some 6,000 police officers and other agents will be specifically in the vicinity of the pope at all times.

Rosenfeld said the security measures were the largest police operation since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2000.

On the eve of the pope’s visit there had not been any specific security threat, he said, nor any requests for demonstration permits either for or against the pope’s visit. If such requests were to come in they would be considered taking into account security and location issues, he said.

“As soon as any intelligence information is received it will be dealt with by us constantly and instantly,” he said.

Although high-profile visitors are nothing new to Israel and presidents and other political leaders visit Jerusalem on a regular basis, what makes the pope’s visit unique is the number of sites he will visit in such a short amount of time, said Rosenfeld. In addition, he said, the number of people traveling with him — some 300 Vatican press corps members, Vatican officials and security personnel will be accompanying the pope — requires additional coordination.

Another unique exceptional security concern will come on the second day of the pope’s visit, which falls after the Jewish celebration of Lab B’Omer, which is popularly marked by gatherings around a bonfire. Because of the immense number of such bonfires there is always a lingering cloud of smoke the next day, noted Rosenfeld, and that can potentially pose a problem of visibility for the helicopter security that will be used for the pope.

During the pope’s visit to the Old City of Jerusalem May 12, all 320 of the closed-circuit cameras installed in the streets and used for general security on other days will be used to monitor the security of the pope, he said.

Rosenfeld said some shops and stores in the Old City were likely to be told to be closed during the pope’s passage through the old city for security reasons, based on their location, but others will remain open, as the Vatican has requested. He said stores asked to close would be permitted to open once the pope has left the area.

“Anyone with an identity card showing his place of residence there will be able to pass through, just like in any other part of the city,” he added.

Security for the pope’s crossing from Jerusalem into Bethlehem, West Bank, has been fully coordinated with Palestinian security, Rosenfeld said.

Though Jerusalem is preparing for major closing of streets to traffic during the pope’s visit, pedestrians will have several opportunities to see the pope in his car, including when he drives through Jerusalem on his way to Bethlehem, said Rosenfeld.

Jerusalem will present the most challenging security issues, said Rosenfeld.

“It is very claustrophobic in areas and there are areas which are very tight. We are talking about a lot of respectable and honorable people he is scheduled to meet, and there are a lot of sensitivities about the different areas where he will be meeting,” he said.

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