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Pope Francis’ Israel Visit to be Guarded By 8,000 Cops

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel is set to deploy at least 8,000 police to protect Pope Francis during his upcoming two-day trip to Israel and the West Bank, the same number as guarded President Barack Obama during his recent visit, officials said.

The number was arrived at during a meeting between the chief of police and the Vatican ambassador to Israel, police spokesman Miki Rosenfeld said on Monday.

"You cannot exaggerate the importance of this visit on both a national and an international level," Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino told reporters.

Danino added that "all sorts of extreme elements" were trying to "create pressure and the impression of pressure" ahead of the May 25-26 visit.

"We will do everything to ensure they won't harm Christian holy places... and to ensure the trip goes successfully," he added.

Suspected Jewish extremists have been writing anti-Christian graffiti on churches and other church buildings in the run-up to the pope's visit.

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Last week, "Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel" was scrawled in Hebrew on the Office of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem, where the pontiff was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, the Vatican announced that the pope would eschew bulletproof vehicles during his Middle East trip.

"The pope wants an open popemobile and a normal car,” chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Lombardi hinted that security officials in Israel had suggested the use of bulletproof vehicles but were over-ruled, Reuters added.

Previous pontiffs were driven in bulletproof limousines on trips whether in Rome or abroad, after the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II who was travelling in an open top vehicle when he was shot.
- Yael Factor and F. Brinley Bruton