Historic US city takes a role in Mideast saga

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ANNAPOLIS, Md, Nov 26 (Reuters) This historic waterfront city takes a role in the long saga of the West Asia conflict this week when Israelis and Palestinians meet here to talk peace, but residents were more concerned about disruption of their own daily lives.

Annapolis, a former capital of the United States, was bracing for tight security and traffic jams to accompany Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the US-brokered meeting.

''I will probably be a little more vigilant those days,'' said said Ellen Schwanebeck, owner of the Dragonfly Garden shop on brick-lined Main Street in the historical part of town.

''But I'm not worried about bombs going off -- I think the people in charge of security will do their jobs,'' she added.

But several residents said most townspeople would likely try to stay away from the historic part of town near the US Naval Academy where the talks will take place tomorrow.

The US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint bulletin to law enforcement urging vigilance during the peace talks.

The bulletin warns of the possible threat of a ''lone-wolf terrorist'' and cites a handful of extremist organizations.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the bulletin wa ''routine information sharing'' and added: ''We have no intelligence indicating a possible threat to the Annapolis Peace Conference.'' On the highway from Washington to Annapolis there was a temporary sign reflecting a sense of heightened security. It said: ''Terror Tips? Call 1-800-492-TIPS''.

But in the days before the meeting there were no overt signs of heightened security in the town of 36,000 residents, a center for yachting in the Chesapeake Bay, a tourist site and home to the Naval Academy.

The academy will be closed to visitors today and tomorrow.

FIRST PEACETIME CAPITAL Most residents were more concerned about how the conference, which will be attended by delegations from more than 40 countries, might impact them and their businesses than whether progress would be made toward West Asia peace.

''I've just thought about it in terms of parking concerns,'' said Schwanebeck.

The narrow streets in downtown Annapolis were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, hardly ideal for heavy traffic.

The 350-year-old city served as the first US peacetime capital from 1783 to 1784 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris formally ending the Revolutionary War with Britain.

Several people said they thought downtown businesses would suffer as residents stayed away.

''I don't think it's really going to help business much,'' said Gigi Brice, who works in a Main Street sweater store. ''I'd love it if it would,'' she said, adding that she expected most people taking part in the talks will not stray far from the Naval Academy campus.

While not as remote as the Camp David presidential retreat -- site to past West Asia peace talks -- the Naval Academy offers a secure environment that is only a short walk from downtown shops and restaurants.

''I think it's kind of cool to take it away from the power buildings of DC,'' Schwanebeck said, noting that Annapolis was an easy 30 to 45 minute drive from Washington.

Israel and the Palestinians regard the international gathering in Annapolis as a launching point for talks on Palestinian statehood, borders, the future of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

Now Annapolis will join other small US locales such as Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore and Shepherdstown, West Virginia, as a site of West Asia talks.

REUTERS JT RAI2041

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