JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Greek counterpart Tuesday he hoped to open Israel’s skies as soon as August after a prolonged closure due to the coronavirus, and that Greece would be among the first destinations for Israeli tourists.
The visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis marked his first overseas post-corona trip and the first official state visit of any foreign leader to Israel since the pandemic broke out several months ago, signaling the close ties between the Mediterranean neighbors.
Greece is among the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis, and Netanyahu said that Aug. 1 would be the “target date” for resuming travel.
“Greece and Cyprus will be the first points of destination,” he said. “This is contingent to what happens in terms of the numbers of the epidemic whether we keep it under control. But, if we are satisfied with the numbers then what we would like to do is target Aug. 1 as the date of the opening of the skies.”
Israel generally weathered the pandemic well and began opening up last month. But it has seen a steady rise in cases since then, raising fears that restrictions may be reapplied. Overall, the country has recorded nearly 20,000 cases, of which more than 15,000 have recovered, and 300 deaths. Greece also fared better than many of its fellow European countries.
Israel and Greece have strong economic ties and have grown even closer in recent years following the discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. They are also aligned politically over their shared concerns about Turkey’s regional ambitions.
“I set out what I consider our view to be regarding Turkey’s aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean. We consider this activity to be a threat to regional peace and stability,” Mitsotakis said, noting a Turkish military exercise last week near Libya.