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Laura Bush brushes aside Jerusalem shrine protests
Updated: 2005-05-23 18:25

ABU GHOSH, Israel - U.S. first lady Laura Bush on Monday brushed aside protests by Jews and Muslims during her visit to the Holy Land, saying the protests did not undercut the efforts of her tour to promote goodwill.

"We all know this is a place of very high tensions and high emotions, and you can understand why," she told reporters after touring the 12th-century Church of the Resurrection outside Jerusalem before flying out to Cairo.

She denied being caught off guard by protesters who jostled and haranged her on Sunday at holy sites in Jerusalem's walled Old City.

"I think the protests were very expected. If you didn't expect them, you didn't know what it would be like when you got here," she said in the village of Abu Ghosh. "Everyone knows how the tensions are and I believe I was very, very welcomed by most people."

Bush wrapped up her Holy Land trip with an appeal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Her husband, President Bush, has sponsored a diplomatic "road map" that has been stalled by non-compliance and regular flareups of violence.

The calm that greeted her visit to Abu Ghosh, a mostly Arab Israeli village where she was treated to a church choir performance, contrasted sharply with her foray the day before to holy sites at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A small crowd of Muslims, some shouting, pressed in on her as she entered Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque, and Israeli police and U.S. Secret Service agents formed a tight cordon around her to push them back.

"None of you belong here," one demonstrator shouted.

She began a Middle East trip on Friday acknowledging that the U.S. image in the Muslim world had been badly damaged by a prisoner abuse scandal and a magazine report, since retracted, that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran.

Shortly before visiting the mosque, Bush appeared at the adjacent ancient Western Wall and was confronted by dozens of nationalist Jews demanding Washington free convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

The shrine compound visited by Bush is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary") and to Jews as Temple Mount and has been a frequent venue of violence rooted in conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims to sovereignty over the site.

It is the most sacred site for Jews and Islam's third holiest place.

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