(Adds Bush's spokeswoman,
By Adam Entous
JERUSALEM, May 22 (Reuters) - Protesters jostled and
harangued U.S. first lady Laura Bush on Sunday when she visited a
flashpoint Jerusalem shrine holy to both Muslims and Jews and at the
heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli police and U.S. Secret Service agents formed a tight
cordon around her to push back crowds in what for Bush, on a Middle
East goodwill tour, was a rare close encounter with hostile
A small crowd of about two dozen people pressed in on Bush as
she entered the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem's walled Old
City. A Palestinian worshipper cried out at her: "You are not
welcome here. Why are you hassling our Muslims? How dare you come in
Bush, who made an appeal for peace later, did not respond to
him or an old woman inside the mosque who shouted "Koran, Koran" at
her in Arabic.
Bush, dressed in a black pantsuit, with black headscarf
donned in religious respect and held tightly on her head, exited
with police linking arms around her to ward off onlookers.
She began a Middle East trip on Friday acknowledging that the
U.S. image in the Muslim world had been badly damaged by a prisoner
abuse scandal and a magazine report, since retracted, that U.S.
interrogators desecrated the Koran.
Shortly before visiting the mosque, Bush appeared at the
adjacent ancient Western Wall and was confronted by dozens of
nationalist Jews demanding Washington free convicted Israeli spy
Jonathan Pollard. They shouted and waved placards.
Bush inserted a small handwritten note in a cleft of the wall
and paused there for about 60 seconds before returning to her
heavily-guarded motorcade for the short trip to the mosque.
The disturbances during her trip to the Jerusalem holy site
showed "what an emotional place this is as we go from each one of
these very, very holy spots to the next," Bush said later during a
stop in the West Bank oasis town of Jericho.
"We're reminded again of what we all want, what every one of
us prays for...what we all want is peace," said Bush, who in Jericho
heard complaints from Palestinian women about Israeli occupation
policies such as roadblocks.
She said the chance of achieving peace "right now ... is as
close as we've been in a really long time. It will take a lot of
baby steps and I'm sure (there) will be a few steps backward on the
The shrine compound visited by Bush is known to Muslims as
al-Haram al-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary") and Jews as Temple Mount and
has been a frequent venue of violence rooted in conflicting Israeli
and Palestinian claims to sovereignty over the site.
It is the most sacred site for Jews, the spot where biblical
King Solomon built a temple and where a second temple was razed by
the Romans, except for its Western Wall. It is Islam's third holiest
site, home to the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.
Laura Bush's spokeswoman Susan Whitson played down the tense
scene at the Dome of the Rock. "She completely understood what she
was coming into," Whitson said.
Most worshippers in the Dome of the Rock were quiet during
Bush's visit, with some curious women following her as she walked
about. "It's so beautiful, just magnificent," she said, gazing up at
the mosque's famed golden dome.
U.S. President George W. Bush hopes to revive a "road map"
plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace after the January election of
moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who engineered a
ceasefire after 4 1/2 years of bloodshed.
"The United States will do what they can in this process,"
said Laura Bush. "It also requires the work of the people here, of
the Palestinians and the Israelis, to come to the table."
Her Sunday stops were the first time on her five-day trip,
which has so far taken her to the Jordanian capital Amman and the
Dead Sea, that she faced protesters.
"We neither welcome nor reject her visit. We have no stance,"
said Ikrima Sabri, the Muslim grand mufti of Jerusalem.
"We do object to the heavy Israeli security in order to give
the impression to the visitor that Jerusalem is under Israeli
sovereignty," Sabri told Reuters.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem, including the Old City,
along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.
Palestinians want all three areas for a future state.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in the West Bank)
Laura Bush jostled, heckled in Jerusalem
22 May 2005 15:50:07