Israeli premier to visit Cyprus in February

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Cyprus in February, an official said on Thursday, becoming the country’s first premier to visit the island nation.

“There is a plan to visit Cyprus in February,» the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity, after Haaretz newspaper reported that Netanyahu was to make the trip on February 16.

Netanyahu’s office and the foreign ministry declined to give any details on the visit, which the paper said was to focus on Israeli-Cypriot cooperation on drilling for gas in offshore fields between the two nations.

The Israeli leader will also be seeking to improve security coordination, the newspaper reported, in the wake of a breakdown in relations with Turkey and growing instability in Syria.

Netanyahu’s trip will follow on from last week’s visit by Cypriot Defence Minister Demetris Eliades, who came to Israel to sign various defence deals, including one on intelligence sharing. And it will come after Israeli President Shimon Peres visited the island in November.

The trips come in the context of increasingly warm ties between the two countries, which were cemented in December 2010 by the signing of a deal delimiting an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The deal to define their maritime border allows the neighbors to move ahead in the search for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

The deal has angered Turkey, which says the Cyprus has no right to begin gas exploration off the island’s southern coast while the country remains split. [AFP]

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