Secret Service clears DC street after ‘suspicious’ activity near Israeli Embassy
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Secret Service clears DC street after ‘suspicious’ activity near Israeli Embassy

Forces respond after man who appears to be wearing a bulletproof vest spotted near diplomatic compound; incident comes amid furor over Israel barring congresswomen Tlaib and Omar

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, September 30, 2016. (Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, September 30, 2016. (Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON — The United States Secret Service closed off the streets surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC on Friday morning after receiving reports of “a suspicious person” near the diplomatic compound.

The Israeli embassy went on lockdown shortly after and the entire street was cordoned off as the Secret Service opened an investigation into the incident.

The area reopened about five hours later.

“This morning security spotted a man who raised their suspicions. He was unarmed and was not behaving aggressively, but was wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest and acted abnormally,” the embassy said after the incident.

“Security notified Secret Service who took over. This happened early in the morning so few people had arrived at the embassy. The situation was resolved by Secret Service in conjunction with local police,” the embassy said, thanking the Secret Service and local police for their assistance.

“This morning at approximately 8:00 a.m. Secret Service Uniformed Division officers responded to the report of a suspicious person and vehicle near the Embassy of Israel,” a US Secret Service spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

“Uniformed Division officers initiated road closures to vehicular and pedestrian traffic and MPD EOD responded to the scene and cleared the vehicle. Road closures remain in effect and will be lifted at the conclusion of the investigation.”

The development comes one day after a furor erupted over Israel’s decision to bar two prominent congresswomen who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) from entering the country. The move was met with widespread rebuke in the United States, including from powerful pro-Israel advocacy group AIPAC and multiple political leaders and 2020 presidential candidates.

In July, the government had announced it would allow Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit Israel, despite a controversial 2017 Israeli law prohibiting any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” But on Thursday, shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that allowing them to enter would “show great weakness,” Jerusalem reversed that decision, saying it would ban the BDS-supporting lawmakers.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib, left, and Ilhan Omar at a rally with Democrats in the Capitol, March 13, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images, via JTA)

It’s not clear whether Friday’s episode was at all related to the news that Omar and Tlaib were prohibited from moving forward on their planned trip to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Tlaib changed her mind Friday on visiting the West Bank, hours after Israel said it would allow her to visit relatives in the Palestinian territory on humanitarian grounds.

Taking to Twitter, Tlaib posted a photo of her grandmother and said Israel’s agreement to allow her to visit only under certain terms was humiliating. She stated that she would not “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.” Tlaib had been heavily criticized by Palestinian groups for initially agreeing to Israel’s terms for a family visit.

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