A solemn King Hussein of Jordan warned against the region's "slide into darkness" Saturday but reiterated a warning that the Jordanian military would defend the kingdom's air space from both Israel and Iraq.

Hussein, however, said he did not know if the Iraqi missiles striking Israel had crossed Jordanian air space.The Jordanian king, who has deplored the air strikes on Iraq by the U.S.-led force attempting to oust Iraq from Kuwait, said in a news conference he believed "the effort that was put into the military option was infinitely greater than anything that happened in the diplomatic realm."

Hussein called for a peaceful end to the fighting without offering a specific plan for negotiations.

Calling the situation "a slide into the darkness and unknown," Hussein said he hoped "somehow, by some miracle, we will turn the corner away from hatred and destruction . . . toward peace."

He called for the battle to be put "on hold for a period of time to enable all people of goodwill to try what has not been tried yet adequately, the approach of dialogue and quiet diplomacy. . . . "

When questioned by reporters, Hussein reiterated that while Jordan wanted no part of the current conflict, it would defend itself from incursions into its territory.

" . . . this is a sovereign country and we will defend our territory and air space from incursions from any side," the king said.

"Our means are limited, but we are determined to do whatever we can to ensure our air space is not violated from any side, in any conflict that may be part of this very, very difficult situation," he said.

Iraq has fired numerous Scud missiles into Israel since the gulf war began, wounding at least 22 people, and it is considered likely the missiles crossed Jordanian territory. There has been no word of any Jordanian action to counter the missile attacks.

Observers fear that Jordan would enter the war if Israel retaliates against Iraq for two salvos of missile attacks, crossing Jordanian air space to attack its targets.

While Jordan, flanked by Israel and Iraq, has publicly supported the U.N. resolutions aimed at Iraq for its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is very popular among the Jordanian population, which includes many Palestinians.