Many places in Israel are as geographically significant as they are historically compelling. South of Jerusalem, for example, is the Dead Sea, some 1,300 feet below sea level-the lowest place on earth. Its salt concentration (ten times that of ordinary ocean water) and its richness in other minerals have made the Dead Sea a spa site since Roman times. The area's low pollution, weakened ultraviolet rays (since they have to cut through a "haze" of bromine and other gaseous elements over the sea), higher oxygen concentration, and mineral-rich water and mud are regularly credited with alleviating the symptoms of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other respiratory and joint disorders.

With the opening of the new Hyatt Regency Dead Sea Resort & Spa, however, your

qualifiers will know this as the place they read a newspaper while floating in a pool of heated, super-buoyant Dead Sea water;

where they indulged in beauty, healing, and anti-stress treatments at the Mineralia Spa; and where the balconies of their

spacious rooms looked out over the Dead Sea and the stark beauty of the Judean Mountains.

The resort's Grand Ballroom accommodates up to 800 guests; there is also a junior ballroom plus four meeting rooms seating

up to 60 persons; and terraced restaurants offer outdoor venues for theme parties and receptions. Jeep tours through the desert

to a sunset lookout over Jordan are a popular activity.

The 600-room (including 93 Regency Club rooms) Hyatt-the first foray of an international chain into the Dead Sea region-is the most luxurious of several hotel developments under way there, including a 260-room Hilton and a 350-room Holiday Inn. Some 2,600 rooms will be available in the area by 2000.

Back in Israel's historic and religious center, the Hyatt Regency Jerusalem has long welcomed religious groups from the U.S. In fact, they make up a majority of the hotel's business. A low structure built of the ubiquitous sand-colored Jeru- salem stone, the 600-room hotel blends into its site on Mount Scopus. Its ballroom seats 700 theater-style, and a large, fourth-floor terrace is ideal for evening events as the sun sets over the city.

Other magnificent sights: the ruins of King Herod's Palace at Masada near the Dead Sea and the charming northern city of Akko, on the Mediterranean.