US President Barack Obama on Friday visited Bethlehem’s Nativity Church built on the site where tradition says Jesus was born, at the end of a three-day trip to Israel and the West Bank.
The visit took place later than expected because of an unexpected sandstorm which forced the president to travel by motorcade from Jerusalem rather than by helicopter as planned.
Israeli police immediately sealed off major roads across the Jerusalem, allowing the convoy to quickly move along the seven kilometres from the King David Hotel to Manger Square in Bethlehem, passing through the towering West Bank security barrier along the way.
When the motorcade reached the barrier, Israeli police vehicles peeled away, leaving the convoy to pass through the eight-metre-tall (26-foot) wall, as Palestinians and Israeli security forces stood either side, an AFP correspondent said.
As the huge motorcade wound through the steep, narrow streets of the biblical hillside town, shops were closed and small crowds of onlookers watched in silence, with no sign of the enthusiasm which usually greets the convoy.
Some held up signs of protest, one reading “No return no peace” and another saying “Gringo, return to your colony.”
Strong winds whipped through Manger Square as Obama got out of the motorcade and was greeted at the Basilica door by Abbas.
Entering through the “Door of Humility” which, with its very low lintel, forces most adults of normal height to stoop, Obama looked around the cavernous, darkened interior of the church, examining ornate gold icons as a priest read out a blessing.
In the courtyard outside, a group of Palestinian children holding US and Palestinian flags had their picture taken with the US leader before he hopped back into his vehicle and the motorcade made a hasty exit and returned to Jerusalem.