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Security worries follow president to Middle East

It's a Secret Service agent's nightmare.

Today and Thursday, President Clinton plans to attend the Israel-Jordan peace treaty signing in a former minefield, address Israel's Parliament and walk the violence-prone alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Clinton's plans have prompted Israeli police to design one of the largest security operations ever, with as many as 20,000 officers deployed nationwide and 6,000 for the Jerusalem stretch alone.

Security officials warned of possible violence by Hamas, the Muslim group that has carried out a series of terrorist attacks in recent days.

"We have assessments that Hamas or other elements will try to carry out attacks, but we don't have any concrete warnings about time and place," National Police Chief Assaf Hefetz was quoted as telling the Maariv newspaper. Police Minister Moshe Shahal was quoted as telling Maariv it was the largest security operation in Israel since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited in 1977.

The United States has flown in explosives detection equipment and two Black Hawk helicopters for security surveillance.

A senior police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Secret Service lobbied Clinton unsuccessfully to at least cancel his visit to Jerusalem's walled Old City. "Clinton's visit in Jerusalem and the Old City is very sensitive," said Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz, noting that its Arab population often demonstrates against Israel.

Traffic in central Jerusalem will be virtually paralyzed during parts of the visit, and workers at Clinton's hotel, the King David, will be body-searched whenever they enter, the official said.

Clinton is coming to witness the festive signing of the treaty today before 5,000 guests at a desert border crossing just north of the Red Sea. The guests are being advised to stay on the asphalt plaza laid down for the ceremony, because the site was until recently a minefield.

About 100 Secret Service agents have been in Israel the past two days. Several dozen scoured the Knesset, Israel's Parliament building, where Clinton will speak Thursday.

Police sources said Israel's security services were concerned their American counterparts may be too eager to shoot. The Americans were warned there would be armed Israeli agents in civilian dress in Clinton's vicinity and they should not shoot without Israeli authorization.