The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, toured Jerusalem holy sites Saturday, along with a congressional delegation that included Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.
The tour came on the delegation's first full day in Jerusalem, the first stop on their fact-finding trip to the Middle East. The group arrived here Friday.
Flanked by security guards, Pelosi and the delegation toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the traditional site of Jesus' burial, in Jerusalem's Old City. They also visited the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, where Jews have gathered for centuries to pray.
The group looked like any another busload of American tourists visiting the region's holy sights on a warm Jerusalem spring day — but with security guards wearing earpieces to move the delegation along. The tour was not announced ahead of time.
Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, said he hoped to visit the compound above the Western Wall known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. The compound, the site of the biblical temples as well as the third holiest site in Islam, is one of the main points of friction between Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict.
"I haven't seen it yet, but I hope to, I'm really looking forward to it," Ellison said of the compound, which is also home to the Dome of Rock shrine.
Ellison said his presence — as a Muslim — on the trip sent a message to Israelis and Palestinians that "people can come together."
"Reconciliation is possible," he said.
Pelosi's delegation intends to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days.
On Sunday, Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is to address the Israeli Knesset in her first speech to a foreign government legislature.
As part of the trip, Pelosi and the delegation will visit Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The Syria stop has irked the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which considers the country a sponsor of terror.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the speaker "should take a step back and think about the message that it sends."
"This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the Saniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders," Perino said. Fuad Saniora is prime minister of Lebanon.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the delegation "intends to discuss a wide range of security issues affecting the United States and the Middle East with representatives of governments in the region, including Syria," as recommended by the Iraq Study Group.
The independent bipartisan commission suggested in December that engaging Syria and Iran could help the war effort. The Bush administration eventually agreed to reach out to the two countries, but only to discuss Iraq.
Pelosi's visit to Israel is her second since she took over leadership of the House of Representatives in January and is an indication she plans to play a role in foreign policy.
Others traveling with Pelosi and Ellison included Henry Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise Slaughter of New York, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Ohio Republican David Hobson.