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President Nelson leaves Jerusalem ahead of schedule as tensions rise in the Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — President Russell M. Nelson Saturday cut short his visit to the Holy Land. According to a statement released from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the change of plan is “due to concerns pertaining to tension in the region, and available airspace.”

The decision came hours after the United States launched airstrikes in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack by the Syrian regime against their own citizens near Damascus. Forty people died.

A visit to Jerusalem was at the heart of President Nelson’s desire to visit members and missionaries in eight countries.

“We wanted to start in Jerusalem to fortify ourselves with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ right at its very inception here where he was born, where he lived, where he ministered and where he was crucified,” said President Nelson.

“When I had this conversation with him early on, we just talked about what it would mean for a prophet of God to come and be in Jerusalem,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who has accompanied President Nelson on the tour.

The church leaders originally planned to leave Jerusalem on Monday morning, after meeting with members near the Sea of Galilee on Sunday.

“We face this week what we face many, many times here,” said Elder Holland before Saturday conference sessions with members at the BYU Jerusalem Center. “We’re just cutting short the trip a little bit, we’ll have a wonderful day.”

Students at the center will remain in Jerusalem.

“We always are very, very conservative, we’re very safe, we would never put any student at risk,” said Elder Holland.

“In this time of heightened tension in this area, our message is more important than ever,” said President Nelson.

During his visit to the Holy Land, Carole Mikita asked about the significance of Jesus calling his 12 apostles in the Holy Land, and President Nelson recently calling two new Latter-day Saint apostles, Elder Gerrit Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares.

“What I thought would be a formidable task was made easy by the Lord,” said President Nelson. “He made it clear to me that they were to be called because of who they would become. The future will be molded by these two new men.”

After a brief stop in Europe, President Nelson, Elder Holland and their wives will continue their trip with visits to Africa, India and Asia.

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