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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK

World: Middle East

Bridge links Israel and Jordan

Jordanian and Israeli foreign ministers with their Japanese guest

Jordan and Israel on Monday inaugurated a rebuilt bridge across the River Jordan linking the two countries.

"This is another foundation for the peace monument which we all seek to build," said Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah Khatib at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the middle of the Sheikh Hussein Bridge.

His sentiments were echoed by his Israeli counterpart, David Levy, who also attended the ceremony.

Mr Khatib walked the short distance to the Israeli side to shake hands with Mr Levy and then both linked up with Chairman of the Japanese Diet's foreign affairs committee Koki Chuma.

Japanese money has made the rebuilding of the bridge possible.

Vital link

[ image:  ]
The Sheikh Hussein Bridge, 100km (62 miles) northwest of the Jordanian capital, Amman, is one of two bridges that Jordan and Israel agreed to build to encourage the flow of goods and passengers between them in line with their 1994 peace treaty.

Three others - all across the Jordan River - link Jordan with the West Bank, whose border posts remain under Israeli control.

They were either destroyed or temporarily closed in the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars.

The Sheikh Hussein Bridge had been destroyed in 1948 and rebuilt in 1994. However, it was not sturdy enough to carry the increased traffic after Israel and Jordan made peace.

Japanese aid

In 1995, Japan gave $7m to help reconstruct a four-lane 90-metre (300ft) long permanent bridge.

The Japanese firm Sumitomo Construction Co Ltd built the Jordanian side of the bridge and the Jordanian border post.

Construction work was completed in March 1998 and the bridge has been unofficially open since November 1998.

Almost 300,000 passengers and nearly 28,000 vehicles used the Sheikh Hussein Bridge in 1998..

Trade hopes

Mr Khatib also voiced the hope that the new bridge would help bolster the volume of trade between the two countries, which fell by 12.5 percent in the first six months of 1999 in comparison with the same period last year.

Jordan's main exports to Israel are fruit and vegetables, and it imports chiefly other foodstuffs.

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