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Israelis saddened by neighboring monarch’s illness

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JERUSALEM -- Most ordinary Israelis were saddened and stunned to learn this week that King Hussein of Jordan had to return suddenly to the United States for further cancer treatment.

"If the king should die, it will surely cause widespread melancholy among Israelis," baker David Silovisky told Reuters on Thursday.King Hussein is immensely popular in the Jewish state. His emotional eulogy for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and a heartfelt condolence visit in 1997 after seven Israeli schoolgirls were shot dead by a Jordanian soldier turned the king into a national hero.

"From the moment the bereaved families learned he was ill with cancer, we've all prayed for him. He consoled and strengthened us when he visited and made us believe in peace," Miri Meiri, whose daughter was killed in the 1997 shooting, told the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv.

Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. In the same year, Israelis marveled at the sight of the monarch flying his plane over Israel, flanked by Israeli air force jets, and exchanging amiable chatter with Rabin over the radio.

Such an outpouring of Israeli warmth for an Arab leader is unusual considering the decades of enmity that preceded the peace accord.

The 63-year-old monarch has worked tirelessly to push forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.