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Smiling Harry touches down in Oman

Prince Harry arrived in Oman today with a welcoming smile for the Gulf state.

He looked relaxed as he stepped from a scheduled fight on to the tarmac at Muscat for a three-day visit to the Middle East.

But the trip has been overshadowed by the ill health of Oman's ruler and head of state Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has been in Germany since July receiving treatment.

The 74-year-old ruler has pulled out of hosting Harry's trip due to an unspecified health condition, which is reportedly bowel cancer.

The Prince is making his first trip to Oman and is following in the footsteps of the Queen and the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall who have all made visits in recent years.

It reflects the close personal relationship between the two monarchies that stretches back many decades.

Temperatures were already sweltering when the Oman Air flight carrying Harry, his adviser Sir David Manning and private secretary Ed Lane Fox touched down just after 8am.

Waiting to meet them on the tarmac was the sultan's first cousin Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said, the minister for heritage and culture, who was dressed in traditional flowing robes called a dishdasha, wore a masar or turban and had a ceremonial dagger tucked into his belt.

The two men shook hands and then walked to the lavishly-decorated VIP lounge of Muscat international airport where they sat down for an informal meeting and briefly posed for photographs.

They were also joined by Britain's ambassador to Oman, Jonathan Wilks.

Middle East coffee and a local sweet delicacy known as halwa was carried into the room by a throng of men.

The seriousness of the sultan's condition is not known but the annual national parade, which marks his coming to power in 1970, was due to be staged today but has been cancelled.

Oman has been transformed since the sultan seized power in a bloodless coup against his father, Said Bin Taimur, 44 years ago.

Despite his lack of a democratic government the ruler's policies have proved popular and he has used the wealth generated by the country's oil reserves to develop its infrastructure and other services.

Tomorrow Harry will tour the historic Nizwa Fort and view local arts and crafts at a souk and on Thursday visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

Harry will travel to Abu Dhabi later on Thursday to take part in the Sentebale Polo Cup an event, now in its fifth year, which raises funds and awareness for the work of the Prince's charity. Sentebale helps to provide healthcare and education to vulnerable children in the African nation of Lesotho.

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