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Economy

Israel, Greece Sign Tourism Deal to Boost Economies

JERUSALEM— Israeli and Greek officials agreed Monday to clear the way for vaccinated tourists to travel between their Mediterranean nations in a bid to boost their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the agreement in Jerusalem on Monday. The deal is designed to allow tourists with vaccination certificates to move between the countries "without any limitations, no self-isolation, nothing," Netanyahu said.

In joint statements to the press after their meeting, Mitsotakis applauded the fast-track vaccination of Israeli citizens, and underlined that Greece will welcome Israeli tourists after the lifting of pandemic's restrictions "without additional requirements". At this point, Mitsotakis expressed his satisfaction about the 5-year collaboration agreement signed by the two countries' tourism ministers on the sidelines of his working visit.

Greek Prime Minister then mentioned his promotion of a digital vaccination certificate "for use within the EU" and also referred to the need for a commonly accepted vaccination certificate with non-EU countries, "to better facilitate travelling ahead of the tourist season."

Referring to a medicine for the coronavirus currently manufactured by Israel, Mitsotakis said he was "very pleased to have discussed this new medicine" and added that Greece will participate in clinical trials. Here, he expressed he estimated that Greece will have "tamed the pandemic" at around April, and invited Netanyahu to visit Greece in the springtime.

Athens and Jerusalem have laid the foundations of modern civilization, and today both aim for stability, progress and security in the region, said Netanyahu; he too agreed that mutual strengthening of tourism and ensuring public health against the pandemic are key to both countries.

The Israeli Prime Minister spoke of the medicine against the coronavirus, which comes in an inhaler, but is currently at an experimental level, and confirmed Mitsotakis' interest for clinical trials to be carried out at a Greek hospital.

"The mere fact that PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Israel in the midst of the pandemic shows there is ample grounds for joint actions and synergies," stressed Netanyahu.

Responding to a reporter's question on Israel-Turkey relations, Mitsotakis replied that "we do not define our bilateral relation by reference to a third country"; he continued to say that he is "not aware of an unfolding process of rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, but things are beginning to improve with Turkey. We are continuing exploratory contacts, provided there are no aggressive actions."

In response to an Israeli journalist’s question on whether he asked PM Netanyahu to guarantee that reconciliation between Israel and Turkey will not be to Greece's detriment, Mitsotakis said he does not know if the future will bring reconciliation between the two countries, and again insisted on the fact that "we do not define our relations in a context which includes third countries."

"The value of the relationship between Greece and Israel is too great in and of itself, to be redefined by other factors in the region," was Mitsotakis' conclusive reply.

Together with Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis, Prime Minister Mitsotakis was also accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias in his visit to Israel.

Later on Monday, Dendias warmly thanked his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi on social media, for both their own meeting and for receiving the Greek delegation.

On Twitter, Dendias wrote in English, in three separate tweets: "Thank you so much, Gabi Ashkenazi, for receiving us for another time. I don’t remember which time it is that I have seen you here. We are not counting any more, which is great for our bilateral relations."

In the final two posts, the minister wrote: "For us it is a great opportunity to brief you, first of all, on the overall situation in the South-Eastern Mediterranean, but also discuss bilateral issues and how we can move forward on our common future. It is always a great pleasure to be here in Israel and it is always a great pleasure seeing you, my dear friend."

Both economies have large sectors devoted to tourism, an industry devastated by travel restrictions during the 11-month pandemic. 

The announcement comes at a time of tough new travel restrictions elsewhere around the world as governments grapple with variants of the virus. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization says international arrivals fell 74% last year, wiping out $1.3 trillion in revenue and putting up to 120 million jobs at risk. A UNWTO expert panel had a mixed outlook for 2021, with 45% expecting a better year, 25% no change and 30% a worse one.

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