Israel is turning the holy sites into a "military base" for Pope Francis' May 25 visit, thus driving a security wedge between the pope and the masses of Christians coming to greet him, the Economist quoted a papal spokesman on Monday as saying.
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“The pope wants to see the people. But Christians won’t be able to see him. ... Israel is turning the holy sites into a military base,” said the spokesman.
The Economist wrote: "While the Palestinians are opening up the streets of Bethlehem and providing the pope with an open car when he visits their side of the biblical land, Israel is taking no chances. It is planning a strict permit regime, insisting that the Holy Father travels in an armored car, with the public kept at arm’s length behind a security cordon."
Israeli authorities maintain that the security measures are necessary; they and Vatican officials have both expressed fears of anti-Christian attacks by radical settlers when the pope is here. Francis will be in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority May 24-26.
Meanwhile, some 200 Orthodox Jews on Monday protested Pope Francis' scheduled visit to an ancient Jerusalem site venerated by Jews as the location of King David's Tomb and by Catholics as the setting of the Last Supper, NBC News reported.
"Under Jewish law it is a big problem. ... Basically they are taking over the place," said protest organizer Rabbi Avraham Goldstein.
The demonstrators gathered outside the Cenacle, which stands on top of Mount Zion just outside Jerusalem's Old City. The ground floor is said to be the site of David's Tomb, while a few floors above supposedly stands the Upper Room of the Last Supper, and on top of the building is a 16th century mosque.
The Vatican and Israel have been at odds for many years over the division of control at the Cenacle, which has been in Israel's hands since 1948. That and the presence of the mosque on the premises further complicate the dispute.