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Hussein vents his anger at Israel

The long paragraphs in the three-page letter from King Hussein of Jordan to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, almost vibrate with rage as he lists his grievances. He says: "My distress is genuine and deep over the accumulating tragic actions which you have initiated at the head of the government of Israel, making peace - the worthiest objective of my life - appear more and more like a distant elusive mirage."

In the course of the letter, sent on 9 March, King Hussein even wonders if Mr Netanyahu would have ordered Israeli warplanes to shoot him down last week if he had tried to pilot the plane flying Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, from Amman to Gaza. The Israelis had refused to allow the flight to enter Israeli airspace. King Hussein asks: "Would you have ordered my fellow pilots in the Israeli Air Force ... to prevent me forcibly from landing or worse?"

Publication of the text of the letter from the Arab ruler previously considered the most sympathetic to Mr Netanyahu comes as Israel faces increasing international isolation. The latest blow came when the US agreed to attend a meeting next Saturday in Gaza of European and Arab diplomats, summoned by Mr Arafat to discuss the impact of the Oslo accords on the Israeli decision to build a Jewish settlement at Har Homa, and make only a limited withdrawal on the West Bank.

Showing a consideration for the Palestinian leader's feelings not often shown by US officials in the past, Nicholas Burns, the US State Department spokesman, said: "Chairman Arafat obviously feels the need to talk to friendly countries around the world, and that's appropriate." Edward Abington, the US Consul in East Jerusalem, will attend the Gaza meeting, which was condemned by Israel. Martin Indyk, the American ambassador, denied yesterday there was any crisis in relations between the US and Israel.

The anger of King Hussein is in sharp contrast to the warming of relations between Israel and Jordan which culminated in the peace treaty between them signed in 1994. Even when Mr Netanyahu was elected last year, King Hussein appears to have thought that Jordan could act as a bridge between him and the Arab world. But when Mr Netanyahu refused his request "as a personal favour" to fly Mr Arafat back to Gaza, King Hussein slammed the phone down.

The Israeli leader, who has been visiting Russia, says in response to King Hussein that he is "baffled by the personal attacks against me". He says: "Despite tremendous resistance from some of my own constituency, I have chosen the path of the Oslo process." But the Jordanian monarch makes clear that he no longer accepts this. He says: "I frankly cannot accept your repeated excuse of having to act the way you do under great duress and pressure." He accuses Mr Netanyahu of breaking a promise not to build more settlements.

In January, King Hussein was considered to have played a critical role in arranging an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the partial Israeli withdrawal from Hebron. He now asks why Israel was deliberately humiliating its Palestinian partners and why the present phase of withdrawal from the West Bank was so insignificant.

The peace treaty with Jordan was considered one of the main gains made by Israel as a result of the Oslo accords. He will visit President Bill Clinton in Washington this week and presumably feels the US is itself angry enough with Mr Netanyahu not to object the King's attack on him. He also calculates that his manifesto against the Israeli leader reflects the sentiments of the Arab world as a whole.