Secretary of State James A. Baker III toured Jerusalem's holy shrines on Friday, making the pilgrimage he had been forced to cancel six weeks ago because of Arab-Jewish tensions.
Taking a break from intensive discussions of a Middle East peace settlement, Baker walked through Jerusalem's old walled city, then drove to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity that marks the site where many believe Christ was born.Baker's tour - his first into territory captured by Israel from the Arabs - had been scheduled for his first visit to Jerusalem but canceled after an Arab stabbed four Jewish women in the city.
He did not speak to reporters. His spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, accompanied him and urged journalists to keep their distance, saying: "This is a private visit."
U.S. and Israeli bodyguards surrounded Baker as he walked from the Jaffa Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over what is believed by many to be the site of Christ's tomb.
Border police cleared his path through the narrow lanes of Arab homes and shops, moving bystanders aside and making them turn their backs as the secretary passed.
Most shops were shuttered, since gulf war curfews imposed on the occupied territories where most Palestinians live, coupled with subsequent strict restrictions on travel, have kept Palestinians from jobs.
As a result, the Palestinian economy is on the brink of disaster, and many families are finding it hard even to feed their children - a situation one Palestinian said he tried to bring to Baker's attention.
Nabil Kirresh, a hotel owner, called out to Baker as he passed. Later, he explained that, "I want to tell Mr. Baker something very important: we need bread. Mr. Baker, we need bread without blood." He said he was also making a pun on Baker's name.
A black-robed priest greeted Baker at the towering wooden door of the church and led him to the altar that memorializes the site of the crucifixion.
A nun shook his hand, and in front of what many believe was Christ's tomb, the priest gave Baker a rosary and crucifix. As Baker left the church for the adjoining Jewish Quarter, tourists snapped his picture.
Religious Jews were heading to the Western Wall in their Sabbath finery, and one man stepped up to explain to Baker that Friday was the Jewish Sabbath and Jews would pray for peace at the wall that night.
The Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is revered by Jews as the last remnant of the temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Baker stood on a balcony in the clear twilight and gazed down at the wall and the silver- and gold- topped domes of the Muslim mosques in the adjacent compound that Arabs call the Noble Sanctuary, and Jews the Temple Mount.
Mordechai Yaacov, a Jewish immigrant from England, waved and called the traditional Sabbath greeting: "Shabbat Shalom, thank you for coming."
Baker then drove 12 miles to Bethlehem and stopped at Manger Square, which police had cordoned off. He spent 15 minutes inside the Church of the Nativity.