Jerusalem braces for traffic chaos as city hosts largest-ever diplomatic event
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Jerusalem braces for traffic chaos as city hosts largest-ever diplomatic event

10,000 police protecting 47 world leaders attending event marking 75 years since liberation of Auschwitz; main highway to Tel Aviv to shut for hours as Putin, Pence arrive

A blocked road in downtown Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
A blocked road in downtown Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

Jerusalem residents on Thursday braced for mass security disruptions and a traffic nightmare as the city hosts 47 delegations of kings, princes, presidents, and prime ministers in Israel’s largest-ever diplomatic event.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz will open in the afternoon at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum with participants including US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles and other dignitaries who will arrive in the morning to join the dozens of world leaders already in Jersusalem.

More than 10,000 police officers, a third of the country’s entire force, will be deployed throughout Jerusalem and on the highways leading to it, which will see the first major disruptions.

Beginning at 7 a.m., the start of morning rush hour, Route 1, the main highway linking the capital to Tel Aviv, will be completely closed to traffic, with Putin landing at Ben Gurion Airport at 9 a.m and Pence arriving 30 minutes later, and the two then making their way to Jerusalem.

A blocked road in downtown Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

“Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m on Thursday, don’t drive to Jerusalem unless you have to,” said Chief Superintendent Erez Amar, head of the traffic police’s central district.

As world leaders pass along the route, other areas, including the main entrance to the city, Rabin Boulevard and parts of downtown will be shuttered until about 10 a.m. Roads around the Knesset, such as Rupin and Ben-Tzvi, as well as areas crossing the center of town, including Agron and King David streets, where many of the guests are staying, will also be closed for much of the day.

Starting in the afternoon, roads heading to the western reaches of the city, especially around Herzl Boulevard, the main thoroughfare to Yad Vashem, will be shuttered.

Many of these areas will also be no fly zones for aircraft and drones.

An Israeli man walks with his dog by a hanging poster of the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

In the evening, the whole cascade of closures will replay itself, only in reverse, as dozens of world leaders head to their planes at Ben Gurion.

The disruption is likely to affect areas far beyond Jerusalem. The traffic corridors to the capital are also vital access routes to several nearby cities, such as Beit Shemesh and Mevasseret Tzion. The closures will also stop public transportation for those hours, upping the number of private cars on alternate roads, and so spreading the traffic troubles ever outward.

The guest list includes Pence, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Putin, Prince Charles, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and many more leaders from Romania, Italy, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Bosnia, Iceland, Armenia, Australia, Canada and other nations.

President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the head of police operations, Commander Yishai Shalem, the event is expected to be one of the largest and most complex security operations ever for the Israel Police.

The security effort — dubbed “Operation Future” — will be led by the police, with assistance from the Shin Bet security service’s Unit 730, which is responsible for protecting high-status officials. The Israel Defense Forces will also offer protection for world leaders visiting the West Bank, including Putin and  Prince Charles, who are both slated to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, the IDF has also reportedly boosted its deployment of Iron Dome anti-missile systems amid fears Gaza terrorists could try and fire rockets at Israel to disrupt the event.

The Russian president — who is the only world leader whose trip, short though it may be, is formally considered a “bilateral visit” and not merely a visit to attend the Holocaust Forum — will head straight to Jerusalem for quick meetings with Rivlin and Netanyahu.

All three of them are then set to attend a dedication ceremony for the “Monument in Memory of the Heroism and the Soldiers and Residents who were Killed During the Siege of Leningrad in WWII,” in the capital’s Sacher Park.

Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar’s mother, Yaffa Issachar, center, and sister Liad Goldberg, left, at appeal hearings in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr.)

Putin is also expected to meet with the mother of jailed backpacker Naama Issachar.

Issachar was sentenced by Russia to 7.5 years in prison after 9.5 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April.

Putin is expected meet Issachar’s mother Yaffa during his meeting with Netanyahu amid expectations he could announce a pardon for her.

Netanyahu will also join Pence and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. During his short stay, the vice president is also expected to visit the Western Wall before taking off for DC on Thursday evening.

The event, headlined “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism,” is co-organized by the office of President Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center and the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, which was founded by Moscow-born philanthropist and Jewish activist Moshe Kantor.

In addition to Netanyahu and Rivlin, Macron, Putin, Pence, Prince Charles and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will address the gathering.

Putin, meanwhile, will later travel to Bethlehem for a meeting with Abbas before heading back to Moscow late Thursday evening. Charles, and Australian Governor General Hurley will also meet Abbas. Macron met him Wednesday.

While in Bethlehem, Charles — who is on his first official visit to Israel and only the second ever by a member of the royal family since the State of Israel was founded in 1948  — also plans to tour the Church of the Nativity, a site revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus. As opposed to his son William, who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last year, the Prince of Wales is not scheduled to visit any holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The future monarch has visited Israel twice before, in 1995 and 2016, to represent the queen at the funerals of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, respectively.

Britain’s Prince Charles attends the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)

These trips, during which he also visited the grave of his paternal grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, at the Church of Mary Magdalene on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, were billed as private visits.

It was not clear if he would visit her grave this time.

Prince Charles will also plant an English oak tree in the garden of the President’s Residence.

Raphael Ahren and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report

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