The monarch paid condolences at seven houses, kneeling to grasp the hands of Israeli families who sat on the floor in mourning tradition for their daughters slaughtered by a Jordanian soldier in a border shooting last week.
In the sleepy town of Bet Shemesh, an interpreter translated for the king the sign language of deaf-and-mute parents Aliya and Shimon Malka.
Israeli school girls embrace as they comfort one another while siting at a candle light memorial set up in the school’s main corridor
“It’s so difficult for me. I don’t have any power. I want my daughter back,” said Adi’s mother Aliya, who fainted after the king entered the home with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We have peace but I don’t have my daughter,” she said.
The monarch, wearing a red Arab keffiyeh headdress, pressed closer to the mother.
“If there is anything left in life it will be spent to ensure that all the children enjoy the kind of peace and security that we never had in our times,” the king said.
Outside, hundreds of police and undercover security men clutched automatic rifles on street corners and rooftops.
The king landed in Israel earlier on Sunday after expressing shame and shock at the massacre of the schoolgirls at a beauty spot on Jordanian soil leased to Israeli farmers under a 1994 peace deal.
The girls were on a field trip to the area, known as the “Island of Peace.”
A sea of black umbrellas moved along the street in Bet Shemesh as the king and his entourage arrived in pouring rain. Grief-stricken relatives offered him a traditionally biblical welcoming platter of bread and salt.
“The memory of your daughter will live with me forever. I hope her memory will give you strength,” the king told the parents of Sivan Fatihi, who was 13 when she was killed.
“Your loss is my loss, my personal loss,” he said.
Sivan’s parents showed the king pictures of their daughter. One relative greeted him in Arabic.
“The peace with Jordan should be the best hope,” said Yisrael Fatihi, the father. “I am sure Your Majesty will fight those fanatic extremists.”
The attack came after relations between Israel and Jordan hit the lowest point since the 1994 peace deal over Netanyahu’s plans to build a Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.
The two sides exchanged harsh letters last week over the settlement plans. Some Israelis said the king’s letter provided the gunman with the impetus for the attack.
The king has appointed a veteran security official to head investigations into the soldier’s motives. Jordanian officials have said the soldier, army driver Sergeant Ahmed Mousa Mustafa al-Daqamsa, acted alone.
Meanwhile, Israel vowed Sunday to break ground on the Jewish settlement despite the king’s visit and police warnings the project threatened to spark Palestinian violence.
Israel’s Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi raised tensions further, warning Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat he faced possible expulsion from the self-ruled Gaza Strip should he launch a wave of unrest.
Israel’s Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush said he hoped work on the 6,500 houses for Jews would begin on Monday morning. “The government’s decision stands and will be executed,” Foreign Minister David Levy told army radio.
On Saturday, Arafat appealed for international help at a Gaza conference. On Sunday his adviser Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters: “Israel has created this crisis and Israel alone will be responsible for the consequences.”
Israel’s police chief Assaf Hefetz added his own warning on Sunday, saying police shared the fears and assessments of other Israeli security forces about the prospect of violence.”Construction there could heat up the situation and lead to a deterioration in relations,” Hefetz said on Israel Radio.
Brigadier-General Yitzhak Eitan, the commander of Israel’s Gaza forces, acknowledged tensions between his forces and the Palestinian policemen with whom the Israelis conduct joint patrols in the strip.
Netanyahu sparked an outburst of violence last September when he punched open a new entrance to a tunnel near Islamic shrines in East Jerusalem. The bloodshed claimed the lives of 61 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.
Israel, viewing all of Jerusalem as its capital, says its peace deals with the PLO do not bar construction of the East Jerusalem settlement. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state.
As it happens Monday — the scheduled day of groundbreaking — was also the day that Arafat and Netanyahu had agreed in a January peace deal to resume talks on the future of Jerusalem and other tough “final-status” issues.
Those talks are due to end in May 1999.
“Whoever launches violence could very quickly find himself packing a suitcase and travelling back and forth on the line from Tunis to Baghdad like he (Arafat) did for many years,” Hanegbi told supporters in remarks on Saturday.
Arafat set up his authority in Gaza in 1994 under a peace deal with Israel.
Hanegbi’s counterpart in Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, Freih Abu Medeen, cancelled a meeting with the Israeli minister following the speech. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said he regretted Hanegbi’s remarks.