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ISRAEL: Pope gets a glimpse of competing claims to Jerusalem

May 11, 2009 |  4:52 pm

Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in Jerusalem set off a scramble among Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate their claims to the city, an issue on which the Vatican is neutral; it favors an international protectorate in the city to safeguard the sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews

Benedict landed by helicopter Monday in East Jerusalem to a ceremonial greeting staged by Mayor Nir Barkat to emphasize Israel's control over the entire city. In Hebrew, he welcomed the pope to "the capital of Israel," a status that does not have international recognition. His remarks in English omitted that label.

As dozens of Christian, Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren cheered and waved at the helipad on Mount Scopus, loudspeakers played "Jerusalem of Gold," a song commemorating Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.

Benedict did not speak at the ceremony. But he accepted Barkat's gift of an etching that reproduced an ancient map depicting Jerusalem at the center of the world.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority, which wants East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, set up a media center in a hotel in the city’s eastern part for journalists covering the pope's pilgrimage. Israeli police, empowered by law to ban Palestinian Authority gatherings in the city, closed down the center and seized media material as Palestinian officials were about to begin a news conference.

Later, at a gathering of participants in an interfaith forum, a Palestinian Muslim cleric commandeered the microphone and made an unscheduled speech denouncing Israel. He began by welcoming the pope to “Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine.”

— Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem

Full coverage: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land