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Israel puts Jewish extremists under house arrest for pope visit

May 22, 2014 1:15 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2014 10:56 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel has decided to place under house arrest three young Jewish extremists suspected of planning to disrupt Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land this weekend, police said on Wednesday.

"The police and Shin Bet (security service) have taken out restraining orders against several right-wing activists who, according to information from Shin Bet, are planning to commit provocative acts during the pope's visit," police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.

Samri, who did not elaborate on what it was thought they intended to do, said the restraining order would apply for four days.

Media said the three activists were to be put under house arrest on Thursday, two days before Francis arrives in the region. The Israeli army would back the measures.

Pope Francis begins his visit to the Holy Land on Saturday when he flies to Amman and meets Syrian refugees before traveling to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

He will meet with all the main Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders, but only briefly.

There has been opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews over perceived Vatican designs on holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israel, which will deploy an extra 8,000 police throughout Jerusalem for the pope's visit, has already strengthened security around Christian sites targeted in a wave of vandalism blamed on Jewish extremists.

US officials said Wednesday that they supported the pope's visit to the Middle East.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington "would certainly be concerned about any rise of anti-Christian or anti-religious sentiment that's growing there.

"Obviously we condemn that type of rhetoric and behavior," she told reporters.

Restriction orders have already been imposed on two students from a yeshiva Jewish seminary at Mount Zion, where the pope is to hold a mass in the Cenacle, the reputed scene of Jesus' last supper, on Monday.

Two gatherings of ultra-Orthodox Jews and nationalists at the site also known as the Upper Room, and another is scheduled to be held there on Thursday.

The lawyer for one of the activists said the restriction infringed on his client's right to freedom of expression.

"Israel is becoming a undemocratic country that silences protesters," the lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir told AFP.

Israel's top police officer on Sunday vowed that Jewish extremists would not be allowed to spoil the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

"There have been attempts here -- principally as we get closer to the visit itself -- by some extremists to try and make a provocation, and create a bad atmosphere before the visit," Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino told reporters.

"We have absolutely no intention of tolerating this."
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