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High Wire Daredevil Walks over Jerusalem

May 18, 1987 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ In his longest high-wire walk ever, daredevil Philippe Petit inched 1,000 feet Monday along a 200-foot-high steel cable stretched between Jerusalem’s Arab and Jewish sectors and released a white dove of peace.

Wearing a colorful jester’s costume and carrying a 12-foot-long balancing pole, Petit released the dove from a blue silk purse over the rocky ravine at the foot of Mount Zion.

The dove landed on Petit’s head, then perched on his pole before flying to a spot on the inch-thick cable.

There were no safety nets or any other precautions. Petit’s highest walk ever was a 1973 stroll between the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center, nearly one-quarter mile above the ground.

During Monday’s 15-minute feat, the 37-year-old Petit lay down on the cable and at one point kicked off his slippers so he could continue the final uphill ascent barefoot.

At the end of the walk, Petit was greeted with thunderous applause from thousands of onlookers crowded atop buildings, on walls and along grassy stretches below the cable.

″I am elated,″ Petit said at a news conference. ″It was the most interesting performance on a high wire of my life.″

Promoted by the city as a ″bridge of peace,″ the walk opened the Jerusalem Festival, a four-week cultural event with music, theater and dance by performers from 15 countries.

Holding his 4-year-old daughter Gypsy, Petit told reporters that none of the more than 40 performances of his 20-year career matched the Jerusalem walk because of its location.

Petit said he started planning Monday’s walk two years ago, inspired by the historical setting and the symbolism of trying to unite predominantly Jewish west Jerusalem with the mostly Palestinian eastern sector.

Petit called the show’s finale, in which he was carried dangling by one arm from a helicopter while more than 600 balloons were released over the city, ″a vision of joy and peace.″

The daredevil, who is from Paris and lives in New York City with his American wife Elaine said he traveled to Israel three times to gather the special grease-free cable, tackle and other equipment needed for the walk.

The cable was hung parallel to a cable car that was used in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to sneak men and supplies surreptitiously over Jordanian soldiers who besieged the Jewish quarter of the walled Old City.

The uphill walk from the roof of the Cable Car restaurant to the top of Mount Zion traversed the Hinnom Valley, or Valley of Hell in Hebrew. The valley is so-named because in ancient times it had a reputation for depravity and paganism.