AMMAN (AFP) - His name alone triggers ripples of fears and nightmares across the Arab world, but more than 50 years ago Israel's hawkish Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon was a wounded POW in Jordanian hands.
Jordanian historian Baqr Khazer is working on a book about Jordan's participation in Arab-Israeli wars, and he will dedicate several pages to Sharon's capture by Jordanian forces in 1948.
The day is cast in gold for retired field marshal Habees Majali, 91, who commanded the fourth Jordanian army battalion in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that broke out after the declaration of the Jewish state.
Majali, one of Jordan's most decorated officers, told Khazer how Sharon was wounded and captured on May 25, 1948 along with five other Israeli soldiers, Khazer told AFP.
Sharon was 20 years old and a lieutenant when he fell into the hands of the then Lieutenant Colonel Majali, only 10 days after the state of Israel was proclaimed.
Majali had been ordered by his superiors to stop Israeli troops from entering Jerusalem to assist Jewish residents in the western sector of the Old City, which was under Arab siege.
The battle broke out 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Jerusalem in the strategic region of Bab el-Wad and raged for 15 hours, Majali told Khazer.
The 600-strong Jordanian battalion smashed the Jewish forces capturing six Israelis, including Sharon.
The prisoners of war were evacuated to a military camp in northern Jordan, and Sharon received medical care for his injuries, Khazer said.
"During the war the Jordanian army would immediately set free Jewish soldiers who were seriously wounded in the fighting but that was not the case for Sharon, which means that his injuries were not serious," Khazer said.
Several months later Sharon was released as part of an Arab-Israeli prisoner exchange, he added.
Forty-six years later, in 1994, Sharon, who by now was damned in the Arab world as an "ogre" for having Palestinian and Arab blood on his hands, asked to meet with the Jordanian officer who had captured him.
Sharon made the request after the signing of the Jordan-Israeli peace treaty.
But Majali -- who declined to attend the signing ceremony to protest reconciliation with Israel -- refused to see him.
"I can never dirty my hands by shaking hands with Jews whom I have fought," Majali told Khazer.
Majali, who holds a seat in the 40-member strong Jordanian senate, has also systematically turned down requests by the media to go public with his story.
"My achievements speak for themselves," Majali said during one of his interview sessions with Khazer.
"Sharon is like a grizzly bear. I captured him, I healed his wounds and now he has become a hero in Israel."
Khazer has lined up interviews with other witnesses who took part in the Bab el-Wad battle and has been poring over military literature and historical documents for his book, scheduled to be published in 2002.