Prime Minister Stephen Harper leaves today for trip to the Middle East

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a sizable entourage leave tonight for the Middle East on a trip that will include a visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Harper will address Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — the first Canadian prime minister to do so.

His spokesman Jason MacDonald says Harper will promote commercial relations, as well as peace and security in the region, when he meets Israel leaders and later the King of Jordan.

Harper is a passionate supporter of Israel and is expected to receive a glowing reception from Israeli leaders.

Harper will have lots of company on his flight over — he’s taking six cabinet ministers and at least 30 business people and community leaders.

MacDonald says air travel and some accommodation costs will be paid out of government coffers, although full details of the final tally are not yet available.

Media organizations that are travelling with the prime minister are paying $8,000 a head, a price tag that includes ground transport and access to communication facilities.

The business and community leaders were invited because they will be taking part in business meetings and cultural events on the trip.

It’s Harper’s first visit to Israel since winning power in 2006.