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Taxpayers foot bill for Middle East tour

Taxpayers will pay for an entourage of business people and community leaders to accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his Middle East visit starting this weekend, his spokesman says.

Air travel and some accommodation costs will be paid out of government coffers, although full details of the bill are not yet available, Jason MacDonald told a media briefing Friday.

There is also as yet no complete list of all of those who will be accompanying Harper on the trip, MacDonald said.

"It's still in flux. It is a significant delegation," he said.

"As far as who pays, typically when people are invited to fly with the prime minister on a trip like this, as part of the delegation, the government of Canada will cover the costs for the travel."

The delegation will include business leaders, and leaders from various communities, including cultural communities, MacDonald said.

They were invited because they will be taking part in business meetings and cultural events on the trip, he added.

Harper will also bring a sizable entourage of his cabinet for portions of the trip, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Employment Minister Jason Kenney, Industry Minister James Moore and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

Development Minister Christian Paradis and Trade Minister Ed Fast are also part of the delegation, MacDonald said.

Other "caucus colleagues" will be on the plane, but MacDonald was unable to name which other Conservative MPs or senators might be making the trip.

Harper is to spend a week in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. He will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the king of Jordan.

Harper is also to address the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset — the first Canadian prime minister to do so. He will also receive an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University.

Harper will promote commercial relations, as well as and peace and security in the region, said MacDonald.

The ongoing Syrian civil war, the Iran nuclear crisis and the Middle East peace process will be on the agenda.

The Canadian Press

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