Protesters Mob Laura Bush in Jerusalem
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM - Protesters besieged Laura Bush during her visit Sunday to two of Jerusalem's holiest sites, with Israeli police locking arms to restrain the crowd and Secret Service agents packed tightly around America's first lady.
Mrs. Bush, who is on a tour intended partly to help defuse anti-American sentiment in the region, placed a note in the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine. She wrote the note on the flight Sunday from Jordan to Israel, but wanted to keep the contents private, a spokeswoman said.
Dozens of protesters stood nearby, shouting, "Free Pollard now." Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who is serving life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy.
The first lady was mobbed by protesters and local reporters, and Secret Service agents and Israeli police had to physically hold back the crowd as she approached the wall.
She then went to the Dome of the Rock, a mosque on a hilltop compound known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount. As she left the mosque, one heckler yelled, "How dare you come in here?" and "Why do you hassle our Muslims?"
Mrs. Bush removed her shoes as she entered the mosque and walked barefoot on the red carpet. She held a black scarf tightly around her head as she gazed up at the gilded dome and the colorful mosaics on the marble walls.
Some of the women studying inside the mosque were clearly annoyed at the intrusion and waved their fingers at the U.S. entourage. Despite the chaos at both sites, Mrs. Bush kept smiling and said little.
Anti-American sentiment is running high in the Mideast because of a variety of factors, including a now-retracted report in Newsweek that Pentagon investigators had found evidence interrogators at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, placed copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in washrooms to unsettle suspects and flushed a Quran down a toilet.
"We in principle don't reject anyone's visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque (compound), but we see in the visit of Mrs. Bush an attempt to whitewash the face of the United States, after the crimes that the American interrogators had committed when they desecrated the Quran," the militant Islamic Hamas group said in a statement on its Web site.
Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic Trust that administers the mosque compound, said Mrs. Bush tried to play down the heckling, saying it could have happened anywhere.
Husseini said he told her he hoped President Bush would exert pressure to achieve peace in the Holy Land.
The next stop on the first lady's agenda was in the West Bank town of Jericho for talks with eight prominent Palestinian women, including Cabinet ministers and legislators.
Back in Jerusalem, she planned to visit Yad Vashem, a memorial to 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi genocide.