Israel's Netanyahu pays historic visit to Greece

Israel's Netanyahu pays historic visit to Greece

There were signs of a Greek-Israeli rapprochement on Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli head of government to pay an official visit to Greece, dpa reported.

In talks late Monday with his Greek counterpart George Papandreou, Netanyahu discussed the Middle East conflict as well as bilateral cooperation.

"I'm sure that we can further develop our relationship in terms of energy, technology and security," Papandreou said afterwards.

Papandreou also praised steps taken by Israel to lift its siege of the Gaza Strip and called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to take part in direct negotiations.

Greece was also prepared to help in this regard, the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said that the visit would bring the two people closer together and added that Israeli investors planned to visit Greece soon.

"We also talked about security," Netanyahu said. " This is very important for us. I hope that we can hold direct talks with the Palestinians."

"The main topic for the next few days is that we're ready to start peace negotiations without any agenda. Have patience," Netanyahu continued.

"We could go to Washington or Cairo," he said, adding that the location of the talks was unimportant.

   Israeli media have portrayed the two-day visit as a significant warming of relations between the two countries, especially in light of the recent dispute between Turkey and Israel over an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship heading to Gaza in May, which left nine activists dead.

   But Athens reportedly sees itself more as a mediator between the Jewish state and Arab countries, as well as the Palestinians, with whom Greece has traditionally maintained good relations.

   Officials at the Foreign Ministry in Athens have reportedly made it clear that they do not want the visit to be seen as if the country were creating any kind of alliance with Israel against Turkey.

"Israeli-Greek relations are not antagonistic towards Turkey," said Papandreou after Monday's talks.

"We're here to develop Israeli-Greek relations," Netanyahu added.

   Papandreou, who visited Israel last month, had also called Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, on Sunday to inform them of Netanyahu's visit.

   Relations between Israel and Greece have warmed considerably over the past two years.

   The Israeli air force carried out military exercises in Greece in 2008 and again this year, though May's manoeuvres were cut short by Athens directly after the killing of the Gaza activists.

   Left-wing organizations in Greece called for protests against Netanyahu's visit and around 400 demonstrators gathered Monday in the centre of Athens, chanting anti-Israeli slogans.

On Sunday, a Palestinian flag was put up on the wall of the Acropolis, Athens' best known landmark.

   Due to a strike by Israeli diplomats, who are demanding higher wages, no member of the Israeli embassy in Athens was on hand to meet Netanyahu when he arrived.

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