JERUSALEM, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- In a speech to the Knesset, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday his nation would stand by Israel "through fire and water."
Harper, who is in the middle of a four-day Middle East tour and already visited the West Bank city of Ramallah and the biblical town of Bethlehem, is widely regarded as one of the most personally supportive western leaders of Israeli interests, the Jerusalem Post reported. That was very much on display during Harper's speech to Israeli lawmakers alongside his counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people," Netanyahu said to Harper at an unusual welcoming ceremony held at his office. "I am not just saying that, I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart, and I am speaking for all of the people of Israel."
Harper told lawmakers Canadians share Israel's hope Palestinians will create a viable democratic state but pledged Canada would only recognize such a state after Israel did.
"Through fire and water, Canada will stand with Israel," Harper said.
Earlier Monday Harper he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Ma'an News Agency reported.
Business delegations from both sides met to discuss joint ventures and investments, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. Harper pledged more than $60 million to Palestine's private sector during the stop, Maclean's reported.
Earlier Monday, Harper visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Ma'an said.
Local journalists alleged Harper's bodyguards assaulted them as they tried to report on his visit.
Cameraman Mousa al-Shaer told Ma'an the plan was for Harper to enter the church first and journalists to follow. However, the bodyguards prevented the journalists from entering the church and assaulted them, Shaer said.