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Wednesday, January 9, 2008       Free Headline Alerts

Bush travel plans in Israel changed at last minute due to missile threat

TEL AVIV — The United States revised travel plans by President George Bush because of the threat of a Palestinian missile attack.

Israeli sources said the U.S. Secret Service canceled Bush's plans to travel by helicopter from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem on Wednesday. The sources said the Secret Service determined that Bush's helicopter could be targeted by an attacker with a surface-to-air missile.

"There was an intense last-minute discussion about the possibility of a SAM attack," an Israeli source said. "When the Israeli side agreed that this could not be ruled out, the Secret Service decided to cancel the helicopter flight."

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The revision in Bush's travel plans was announced hours after two Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, Middle East Newsline reported. The 107 mm rockets, with a range of eight kilometers, landed in the Israeli town of Shlomi on early Tuesday.

Instead, Bush was to travel by car from the airport to Jerusalem, a 37-kilometer trip. The entire east-bound highway was closed for several hours.

The Secret Service assessment marked a departure from an earlier CIA report that Palestinians in the West Bank could not threaten Ben-Gurion airport with SAMs. The CIA assessment was issued in 2005 during talks with Israel on plans to build a security barrier some five kilometers into the West Bank, located adjacent to the airport.

Hours later a United Nations peace-keeping patrol in southern Lebanon was bombed and two officers were injured. The Al Qaida-aligned Fatah Al Islam was said to have been responsible for both strikes.

The Israeli military has closed the West Bank during Bush's visit. A military statement said the closure, ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, would end on Jan. 12 "in accordance with security assessments."

The Bush security operation, titled "Texan Magic," would mostly affect Jerusalem. Entire neighborhoods of the city have been closed, affecting schools and businesses.

The sources said Israeli police and security forces have been ordered to quell protests held in the vicinity of Bush. They said Israeli forces were authorized to use live fire against protesters who approach the U.S. presidential convoy.

On Tuesday, two Israeli youngsters were arrested on charges of incitement after they hung a poster that showed Bush wearing an Arab headdress. Later, an Israeli judge, citing lack of evidence, released the detainees.

The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that Bush was being accompanied by 20 armored limousines, 400 U.S. security personnel, 200 White House staffers, 15 canine teams, helicopters and transport planes. The newspaper said an aerostat that contains advanced sensors and cameras has been hovering above Bush's hotel.

"Demonstrations are expected in and around the vicinity of the Consulate General's Agron Road building from January 8-January 12, 2008," the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem said in a warden message on Tuesday. "Traffic disruptions and an increased security presence are expected and Consulate General personnel have been encouraged to avoid the area as much as possible during the [Bush] visit. The Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Israel, to defer unnecessary travel to the West Bank and to avoid all travel to Gaza."

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