Obama to visit Church of Nativity, Iron Dome to be moved to airport for photo-op 14Mar13 March 14, 2013

by Barak Ravid     -      Haaretz        -       13 March 2013

593534679During his trip to Israel this month, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to pay a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, members of his delegation told Israeli government ministry representatives on Monday.

According to a high-ranking Israeli official, that stop, scheduled for Friday, March 22, was added to his itinerary only in the past few days. UNESCO recognized the Church of the Nativity as a Palestinian World Heritage Site in June 2012, several months after Palestine became a full-fledged member of the organization.

The advance American delegation responsible for organizing President Obama’s visit arrived in the country on Sunday evening. The delegation of about 50 people, which includes diplomats, security and logistics personnel and White House representatives, met on Monday with high-ranking officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to finish preparing the schedule.

The members of the delegation are expected to see the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, and to see the arrangements for the joint press conference with Obama and Netanyahu. They also visited the president’s official residence, where an official dinner will be held, and the International Conventions Center in Jerusalem, where Obama will give a speech for the Israeli public. On Tuesday, the advance delegation will visit Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where Obama will be staying, as well as Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum and Israel’s national cemetery at Mount Herzl, which he is also expected to visit.

On Wednesday, the American delegation will visit Ramallah and Bethlehem.

According to the itinerary that was presented on Monday morning, Obama will land in Israel at around noon on Wednesday, March 20 and be welcomed in an official ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport. Immediately afterward, Obama will be shown an Iron Dome battery. Due to lack of time, the battery will be set up at Ben-Gurion Airport, and at the conclusion of his welcome ceremony, Obama will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to be shown the battery.

Later in the day, Obama will go to the president’s official residence in Jerusalem for a meeting with Peres. Afterward, he will meet with Netanyahu at the prime minister’s official residence and hold a press conference with him. Then, the two leaders will have dinner with their advisory teams.

On Thursday morning, Obama will visit the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum and will be shown the Dead Sea Scrolls. Officials of the Prime Minister’s Bureau would also like Obama to see an exhibit of Israeli technological developments, but it is not yet clear whether the exhibition will be mounted in time for the president’s arrival.

After visiting the Israel Museum, Obama will go to Ramallah, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other high-ranking PA officials. At 5:00 PM, he will return to Jerusalem and give the major speech of his visit at the International Conventions Center.

After the speech, at 6:00 PM, Obama will attend a reception organized by Secretary of State John Kerry at the American Consulate in Jerusalem, which is responsible for relations with the Palestinian Authority. Afterward, Obama will go to the president’s residence for an official dinner with the country’s highest officials.

On Friday, Obama will visit Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. He will lay wreaths at the tombs of Theodor Herzl and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem. Afterward, he will meet in the King David Hotel with the head of the opposition – most likely Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Obama will then visit Bethlehem.

On Friday afternoon, Obama will leave Israel after an official farewell ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport.

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