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Greek PM arrives in Israel for talks on energy, annexation

Kyriakos Mitsotakis comes with largest delegation to Israel since start of pandemic

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (3L) greeting a Greek delegation led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (3R) at Ben Gurion Airport, June 16, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (3L) greeting a Greek delegation led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (3R) at Ben Gurion Airport, June 16, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrived in Israel Tuesday for a one-day visit planned to include wide-ranging talks covering energy and his counterpart’s controversial plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Mitsotakis is leading the largest high-level delegation to Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with six ministers in tow including defense, foreign and tourism.

The delegation landed at Ben Gurion Airport and was greeted by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Their overnight stay follows a visit to Jerusalem last week by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who voiced European discontent at Israeli proposals to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.

The step forms part of a peace plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump in January, which has been backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wholly rejected by the Palestinians.

“We will discuss the peace plan of President Trump and we will talk about energy and the EastMed [gas pipeline], stability in the Middle East with an emphasis on Iran and Lebanon,” Iris Ambor, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Southern Europe Department, told journalists on Monday.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus in January signed the EastMed deal for a huge pipeline to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, despite objections from Turkey.

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, center, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiadis, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for a photograph ahead of a signing ceremony in Athens for a pipeline to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe January 2, 2020. (AP Photo)

Mitsotakis will hold talks with Netanyahu on Tuesday and will visit Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial site Yad Vashem on Wednesday, Ambor said.

The Greek delegation will not travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, according to Israeli officials.

The European Union is weighing retaliatory measures as a response to Israeli annexation, which could begin from July 1, although sanctions would require the agreement of all 27 member states.

Israel is counting on European allies such as Austria and Hungary — who last month refused to back a resolution against annexation — and “friendly” countries such as Greece and Cyprus to tone down the EU response.

“Our request to Greece is to support us at the EU level, to make sure the European Union has sensible language when dealing with the peace plan,” an Israeli source told AFP.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and five ministers will make a one-day visit to Jerusalem next week, Israeli officials said.

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