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Anastasiades to visit Israel, pandemic on agenda

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President Nicos Anastasiades will pay a one-day visit to Israel on Sunday to hold discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the pandemic, energy, and tourism.

A Presidency statement on Tuesday said Anastasiades will discuss with Netanyahu “latest developments on the Cyprus issue, bilateral relations, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic, as well as energy and tourism”.

Greece and Israel signed an accord on Monday to ease travel restrictions to Greece for Israelis with proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a move Athens hopes will support its bid to use vaccination certificates to save its battered tourism sector.

Cyprus also supports the ‘vaccine passport’ initiative and a similar deal could be struck with Israel.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has pushed the idea of using standardized certificates showing travellers have received an inoculation as a means of opening up international travel for the vital summer season.

“We need to facilitate travellers once they provide easy proof of vaccination and this is what we intend to do with Israel,” he said at a joint news conference with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

From March 1, Cyprus will also allow entry to vaccinated tourists without restrictions while ending quarantine regulations for 56 countries.

Israel has been a world leader in vaccinations, with more than a third of its population receiving the Pfizer Inc -BioNTech shot.

Mitsotakis said Israel’s rapid vaccine campaign meant Monday’s agreement could point the way for similar accords with other countries later, allowing tourists to visit without additional restrictions.

“I expect what we will be doing with Israel to be a trial run for what we can do with other countries.”

The 27-nation EU continues to debate whether certificates should be required for cross-border travel.

Critics say such certificates could be discriminatory and it remains unclear how effective vaccinations will be in halting transmission.

Israel is also negotiating a deal with the UK and Estonia on a travel corridor between the countries for the vaccinated.

It is also in talks about enacting similar agreements with Romania, Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Seychelles, the Ynet news site reported.

Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have friendly relations, including over natural gas production in the Mediterranean, and all have a tense relationship with Turkey, which seeks to expand its fuel production in the region.

Anastasiades will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and Government Spokesman Kyriakos Koushos.