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'Obamamania' engulfs Jerusalem on eve of visit

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Jerusalem was decked out with US flags and bunting as the Holy City geared up to roll out the red carpet for Wednesday's historic visit by US President Barack Obama.

Despite the excitement and fanfare, Obama's trip, his first since becoming president, has met however with mixed reaction from ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

Ahead of the president's arrival at about midday Wednesday, the Jerusalem city council has strung up around 1,000 Israeli and US flags.

And there are plans to project "a decorative light show onto the walls of the Old City throughout the visit so that the president can watch it from his room" in the prestigious King David Hotel, the municipality said.

For weeks now, Jerusalem has been awash with mostly officially sponsored "Obamamania" which started when the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a public vote on Facebook to decide on an official logo for the visit.

The winning design features a fused-together US-Israeli flag with the words "Unbreakable Alliance" underneath.

The US embassy has also harnessed social media to hype up the visit, with its official Facebook page featuring a picture of Obama tucking into a plate of food, a thought bubble reading: "What will I eat in Israel?"

Chef Shalom Kadosh, who cooked for presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in previous visits, will prepare for Obama "ravioli filled with confit of Jerusalem artichokes... red mullet tossed with green soybeans," and other culinary delights, according to a menu released ahead of the visit.

The US consulate in Jerusalem released on YouTube a rap video by Palestinian youths who welcome Obama "with an olive branch," as a life-size cardboard cut-out of the president hovers near children playing in a school playground.

-- 'Yes We Can? No We Can't!' --

But despite the official hype, campaigns openly hostile to the visit, by both Palestinians and Israelis, have gathered pace.

Another YouTube music video berates Obama for the US vote against the Palestinian bid to secure upgraded UN status, a resolution that passed with overwhelming international support in November.

A separate Facebook campaign features a sign over Obama's face, saying: "Do not enter. The people of Palestine do not welcome you here."

Palestinians in Bethlehem, where Obama is to visit the Church of the Nativity, hurled shoes at a giant poster of the president and reportedly set fire to a picture of him, demanding the release of prisoners held by Israel and an end to settlement building.

Some 300 activists protested in Ramallah, where the US leader will on Thursday meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"Obama out, this is Palestinian land," they chanted, and "stop all US aid to Israel."

Scores of students from Ariel University, which was recognised earlier this year as the first university in a settlement, protested outside the US consulate, angered after they were not invited to an Obama speech along with Israel's established universities.

"Yes we can? No we can't! We will not let Obama discriminate against us," railed the students' Facebook campaign, invoking Obama's 2008 presidential campaign slogan.

Outside Israeli President Shimon Peres's official Jerusalem residence, hundreds of noisy demonstrators demanded Obama free Israeli Jonathan Pollard, jailed for spying in the United States since 1985.

"Let my people go," said one banner. "Welome Mr President, please free Pollard," read another.

Security measures across the city have been stepped up dramatically ahead of the visit.

"This is the largest police operation since president George Bush's visit in 2008," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

"There will be 15,000 police officers deployed" throughout the city for the duration of the visit, he said -- with 5,000 on duty every day.

Police will coordinate with US security details, which will include convoys, helicopters and rapid response units, Rosenfeld said.

The area around the King David Hotel will be completely closed off for the duration of the visit.

Other roads in the city will be sealed off and public transport rerouted with the details laid out in 30,000 flyers distributed by the municipality.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130319/obamamania-engulfs-jerusalem-eve-visit-2