Jordan and Japan on Thursday placed the cornerstone for the 9.7 million-dollar expansion and reconstruction of the King Hussein Bridge linking Jordan to the West Bank and Israel, with officials hoping it will contribute to strengthen peace and regional economies.
"We hope that this new bridge will help develop the economies of the region and reinforce trade and industrial relations as well as tourism," Japan's ambassador to Jordan Koichi Matsumoto said at the launching ceremony.
Jordanian Transport Minister Hosni Abu Gheida said the reconstruction of the bridge was "an important step to reinforce the peace process in the region and shows Tokyo's active participation to promoting this process."
Work on the bridge is expected to end in March 2001 and will be carried out with Japanese money given by Tokyo as part of relief aid for the cash-strapped kingdom.
The current bridge will be expanded from two lanes to four and an eight-kilometer approach road on the Jordanian side will be improved.
The new four-lane bridge will span 120 meters (130 yards) across the river to link Jordan with the West Bank and Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Amman in October 1994.
Located southwest of Amman the original bridge -- known as the Allenby bridge to the Israelis -- which was built at the start of the 20th century was destroyed during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war and rebuilt that same year.
The grant for the revamping of the bridge is part of some 400 million dollars in economic aid pledged by Tokyo during a visit to Japan in December by King Abdullah II.
Sumitomo has also contributed to the construction of the Jordanian side of the Sheikh Hussein bridge to the north, which links Jordan to northern Israel and was inaugurated officially in August.
There is another border post between Israel and Jordan at Wadi Araba at the southernmost tip of the kingdom - AMMAN (AFP)
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