Israel gave visiting Greek President Karolos Papoulias a warm embrace on Monday, with both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanking and praising Athens for its role in foiling the Gaza-bound flotilla last week.

“I thank you very much for fulfilling the UN secretary general’s guidelines and stopping the flotilla,” Peres said at a meeting at Beit Hanassi. “Thank you for not allowing people interested in disturbing good order and international law from coming without supervision to Gaza, which is led by a terrorist group.”

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By not allowing the protest ships to set sail from Greek ports, Greece helped “calm the waters” in the region, Peres said. He thanked Papoulias for his involvement, and for the way in which Greece handled matters in a very “strict and legal” manner.

Netanyahu issued a statement after his meeting with the Greek president saying that he thanked Papoulias both for Greek help in stopping the flotilla, and for Greek aid in putting out the Mount Carmel Forest fire in December. Greece was the first country to send firefighting planes to help douse the blaze.

Netanyahu said that those wanting to “free Gaza” should free it from Hamas, which “acts with cruelty toward minorities and those who seek peace in the Strip.”

Netanyahu also said he was ready to sit down with the Palestinians “tomorrow morning” and begin direct negotiations, adding he was sorry “they were refusing.”

Papoulias did not publicly relate to the likely Palestinian bid for recognition of statehood at the UN in September – or to how Greece planned to vote – beyond saying in his meeting with Peres that Greece, because of its geography, was directly affected by what happened in the region, and was interested in moving the diplomatic process with the Palestinians forward.

Toward this goal it was working “with this spirit inside the EU framework,” he said.

Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Aryeh Mekel, said Papoulias’s visit “is the climax to a year of rapid developments in the relationship between the two countries. President Papoulias represents the Hellenic Republic and the entire Hellenic people.

“And, as such, his visit signifies the dramatic change in the relationship – a change that was very evident in the recent developments,” Mekel said.

Papoulias was hosted at a state dinner by Peres Monday night, and also met with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and with opposition head Tzipi Livni, and visited Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, he will lay a wreath on the tomb of Theodor Herzl and visit Yad Vashem, before going to Ramallah for meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.

Papoulias will take part in a Greek-Israeli business seminar in Tel Aviv, before flying home on Tuesday night.

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