Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is on an unprecedented official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He is his country’s first head of state to come to Israel since both countries gained independence in 1948.

In welcoming his Sri Lankan counterpart to his residence on Thursday, President Shimon Peres hailed him as a great leader who was successful in bringing peace, reconciliation and restoration to his people, “which is not a small achievement.”

“You have come here as a leader with an impressive record,” Peres said. “You have invested your heart and mind and days and nights in peace, and you are seeing the fruits. You have come to a region still in search of peace and reconciliation. Israel is determined to make peace.”

Peres also related to Israel’s sometimes rocky relationship with Sri Lanka, which he said, had its ups and downs, commenting that it was better to forget the downs and remember the ups.

Responding to the president’s remarks, Rajapaksa said that his country supports peace for all people. Sri Lanka had suffered 30 years of war with terrorists and had enjoyed peace only in the last four years. In that brief period, it has succeeded in eradicating terrorism and developing economically. It released 14,000 former combatants from prison, some of whom had been child soldiers, and sent them back to society, he said.

“We believe society can rehabilitate people,” he said.

For the time being, Sri Lanka has mended its fences with Israel and the two countries have a very good relationship, particularly on matters of defense.

Rajapaksa met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the two agreed to expand bilateral relations, especially in agriculture and water technology.

Unlike most official visitors to Israel, Rajapaksa met with PA leaders before calling on Netanyahu and Peres.

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