Hussein is received with rapture on his visit to Tel Aviv

 

MORE than 20 years ago, he was ferried secretly around the streets of Tel Aviv, late at night, hidden in a limousine behind heavily tinted windows.

Yesterday Jordan's King Hussein came to see the city by day, in an emotional first public visit dedicated to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin and designed to show other Arab states the potential for normalised relations with Israel.

Accompanied by most of his top officials and dozens of journalists, the king - who signed a full peace treaty with Israel 15 months ago - was received rapturously by Israelis, who lined the streets to cheer as he passed, and watched almost every moment of the eight hour visit live on state television. Jordan Television, too, covered the entire trip live.

The king held a working meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Shimon Peres, but the high points of the visit were symbolic rather than substantial.

And the emotional centrepiece was the king's participation in the dedication of a new trauma unit, in Mr Rabin's name, at the Tel Aviv Ichilov Hospital where the Israeli prime minister died two months ago.

The king was greeted at the hospital by Mr Rabin's widow, Leah, and her family. A veritable serum of admirers surrounded him as he made his progress along the corridors where Mr Rabin was rushed by surgeons.

His relationship with Mr Rabin had been "unique", the king said, a relationship built on the deepest respect. In achieving their peace treaty, he said, "we did not deal with each other as politicians do . . . God helped us to arrive where we did."

While the king expressed his pleasure at the warmth of his reception, saying, "I felt at home among friends," Mr Peres acknowledged that the visit was also a much needed unifying experience for the Israeli public, divided over the ongoing peace process with the Palestinians and the merits of a land for peace deal with the Syrians, but near unanimous in support of the treaty with Jordan.

With memories of the assassination still fresh, a 6,000 strong force of Israeli security personnel was deployed for the visit, closing off much of Tel Aviv for the day, keeping the more aggressive TV cameramen at bay, and even, according to some reports, sampling the food before the king and Mr Peres tucked in.

As night fell the king, Mr Peres and the visiting US Secretary of State, Mr Warren Christopher, travelled north, to a ceremony on the banks of the Sea of Galilee where peace prizes were awarded to the chief negotiators of the Israel Jordan peace treaty.