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Laura Bush brushes aside Jerusalem shrine protests

Reuters | May 23, 2005
By Adam Entous

CAIRO - U.S. first lady Laura Bush said on Monday she was not surprised at protests by Jews and Muslims during her weekend visit to Jerusalem holy sites, but appealed to both groups to put aside their anger.

Bush said protesters' jostling and haranguing in the walled Old City on Sunday had not undermined her solo tour, aimed at countering regional anti-American sentiment.

"These are very, very emotional places. They're sacred places to religions," Bush said in a CBS "Early Show" interview. She told CNN she had spoken to her husband President Bush about the incident, which she said was being exaggerated.

Bush began her Middle East trip on Friday acknowledging that the United States' image in the Muslim world had been badly damaged by a prisoner abuse scandal and a magazine report, since retracted, that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran.

The first lady said she deplored any abuses. She told ABC's "Good Morning America": "That's not really what happens all the time. That's not what our troops really do. This is a handful of people."

Asked if her trip had helped placate Muslims, Bush said: "Well I hope so. You know, who knows. I mean I don't know."

PROTESTS DIDN'T SURPRISE

Speaking earlier in the mostly Arab Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, Bush said the Old City protests had not been unexpected. "Everyone knows how high the tensions are and believe me, I was very, very welcomed by most people," she said.

She wrapped up her Holy Land trip in Abu Ghosh with an appeal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the aim of the diplomatic "road map" sponsored by her husband, which has been stalled by non-compliance and regular violence.

"There are thousands of years of fighting and hatred, but what I'm hoping is ... that it can be our generation that puts that aside so that we can all come to the Holy Land in peace," she told reporters in the gardens of the 12th-century Church of the Resurrection.

The calm that greeted her visit to Abu Ghosh and then Cairo contrasted sharply with her foray the day before to holy sites at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A small crowd of Muslims, some shouting, pressed in on her as she entered Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque, and Israeli police and U.S. Secret Service agents formed a tight cordon around her to push them back.

"None of you belong here," one demonstrator shouted.

Shortly beforehand, her visit to the adjacent Western Wall complex had been met by dozens of nationalist Jews demanding Washington free convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

The shrine compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary") and to Jews as Temple Mount.

Conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims to sovereignty over the site -- the most sacred site for Jews, and Islam's third holiest place -- have led to frequent clashes there.

In Cairo, Bush met the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for the taping of a popular children's television show.

Bush was to visit Egypt's pyramids before making a final stop in Alexandria on Tuesday.

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