AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Britain’s Prince William on Sunday praised “historic ties and friendship” with Jordan and the kingdom’s commitment to Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as he began a historic five-day tour that also includes Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Though billed as non-political, it’s a high-profile visit for William, 36, second in line to the throne. He is meeting with young scientists, refugees and political leaders in a tumultuous region Britain controlled between the two world wars.
In Jordan, the prince was hosted by Crown Prince Hussein, 23, a member of the Hashemite dynasty Britain helped install in then-Transjordan almost a century ago.
The pair capped the day Sunday by watching England’s World Cup match against Panama which the heir to the Jordanian throne had recorded earlier. Kensington Palace posted two photos on Twitter showing the two sitting on a sofa at the Beit Al Urdun Palace, watching the match on a huge screen. Both were dressed casually, Hussein in a white T-shirt, and William in a light blue shirt.
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William is president of Britain’s Football Association and an avid supporter of the Aston Villa football club.
After William’s arrival Sunday afternoon, the two princes visited a technology lab for digital manufacturing, supported by the Crown Prince Foundation. Students from the Hussein Technical University presented some of their projects, including a multi-axis robotic arm and a paint robot.
William was given a wooden shield decorated with the crest of Aston Villa.
At a reception later Sunday marking the birthday of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, he praised Jordan’s resilience as it absorbed waves of refugees over the decades.
“The way in which you opened your doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, not to mention your longstanding commitments to Palestinian refugees, is remarkable,” he said.
He said his wife Kate is “very sorry” that she was not able to join him on the trip so soon after the April birth of their son, Louis.
He noted that she had spent almost three years as a child in Jordan, when her father worked in Amman for British Airways.
William said that her family “remembers very fondly” the stay in Jordan, adding that the positive experience is not unique.
“The interchange between our two countries is real and it’s deep,” he said. “Work, study, tourism and family links. Our historic ties and friendship are played out in the lives of thousands of people who consider both countries home.”
In two days in the kingdom, the prince will also tour a vocational training college with links to Britain’s Middlesex University, meet Syrian refugee children and tour the Roman ruins of the Jerash archaeological site.
On Monday evening, the prince leaves for Jerusalem for the first-ever official visit by a member of the royal family to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He’ll meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a time of widening rifts between the two sides.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict typically looms large, even during largely ceremonious visits, and William will have to maneuver carefully to avoid missteps.
Last week, an Israeli Cabinet minister complained about the royal itinerary’s reference to Jerusalem as part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” calling it a distortion of reality.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not internationally recognized. Israel considers the eastern sector, home to sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, as an inseparable part of its capital. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they hope will also include the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said she welcomes William’s visit to the West Bank as a chance to see Palestinian reality under Israeli occupation first hand. “This visit is the first of its kind and represents an opportunity to enhance relations between Prince William and the Palestinian people on all the levels,” she said.
William is visiting a region where three decades of British rule between the two world wars helped establish some of the fault lines of today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Britain’s withdrawal from the region after World War II led to the eventual establishment of Israel and Jordan.
Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty has strong ties to Britain.
The second marriage of the late King Hussein was to a British citizen, Antoinette Gardiner, who took the title Princess Muna and is the mother of the current monarch, King Abdullah II. Hussein, Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein all attended Sandhurst, the British military academy, as did William.