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The Globe and Mail

Harper visits Sea of Galilee, Hula Valley ahead of Jordan tour

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, January 19, 2014. Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem is seen in the background.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being treated to some of the marvels of Israel Wednesday, including the Hula Valley and the Sea of Galilee.

Mr. Harper, fresh off his hero's welcome by Israeli worshippers at the Western Wall, flew north in a military Black Hawk helicopter to take in the splendours of one of the country's most popular and picturesque tourist areas.

After the helicopter landed at an airport near the Sea of Galilee, Harper and his wife, Laureen, were taken by SUV to visit ancient ruins and a synagogue.

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The first stop was Capernaum, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee believed to date back at least 3,000 years.

According to the Bible, Capernaum was chosen by Jesus to be the centre of his public ministry in Galilee after leaving Nazareth.

The Harpers toured the ruins of the first synagogue there, where evangelists believe Jesus went on the Sabbath. They then wandered to the shore of the sea.

The couple was accompanied by several nuns as they toured the ancient Church of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

It is on the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus is said to have preached the "Sermon on the Mount." The church was built on the slope of the Mount in 1938. The Sea of Galilee attracts Christian pilgrims since the New Testament describes Jesus performing miracles on its shores.

After they posed for the media, two nuns handed an iPhone to a journalist and asked him to snap a picture of them with Laureen Harper.

On the helicopter flight there, the Harpers were accompanied by Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of strategic affairs.

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A second helicopter followed behind, carrying the media entourage covering Mr. Harper and Rafi Barak, Israel's new ambassador to Canada.

The Harpers next headed to the Hula Valley to visit a bird sanctuary that is to be renamed in the prime minister's honour. Anthems were sung as the couple arrived and people could be heard chanting: "Harper! Harper!"

After some brief remarks, Harper joined his wife and other members of the Canadian delegation in a tour of the sanctuary. The Canadian group, including Development Minister Christian Paradis and Trade Minister Ed Fast, climbed into open trailers with seats, pulled by tractors, which allow for optimal bird-watching.

At one point, the prime minister's ride stopped so the group could get out and take in the sight of open wetlands swarming with cranes.

The Canadian Jewish community had raised about $5.7 million on Dec. 1 to help refurbish the sanctuary in northern Israel.

Barak told The Canadian Press then that the Israeli government views the wetlands preserve as "our symbolic way to say thanks" to Harper for the public support he's offered their country over the years.

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Harper will end the day in Tel Aviv, where he'll receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tel Aviv. Harper then travels to Amman, Jordan, where he'll meet with the King of Jordan and visit a Syrian refugee camp.

Harper is on his inaugural visit to the Middle East. He's received an exceptionally warm welcome from Israeli officials, and everyday Israelis too, thanks to his full-throated support of the Jewish state.

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