Peres offers Cyprus president condolences over blast

President phones Chistofias after accepting credentials of new Cypriot Ambassador Dimitris Hatziargrou.

By
July 14, 2011 01:45
President Shimon Peres in Venice

President Shimon Peres in Venice 311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)

 
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Less than an hour after accepting the credentials of Dimitris Hatziargrou, Cyprus’s new ambassador to Israel, on Wednesday, President Shimon Peres was on the phone to President Dimitris Christofias expressing the condolences of the people and State of Israel over the deaths of 12 people killed in the explosion of confiscated Iranian armaments at a naval base in Cyprus. He offered help over and above that already dispatched by Israel.

During the call, Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz came to brief Peres, telling him that the army was sending over another seven generators.

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Christofias was effusive in thanking Peres for the generators and the medical aid team. Earlier on, Peres had also expressed his condolences to Hatziargrou, who was the third of five new ambassadors presenting their credentials.

The ceremonies on this occasion were far more intimate than usual. Generally, the president, together with senior staff and deputy directors-general from the Foreign Ministry, wait in the large banquet hall at Beit Hanassi to receive each new ambassador, who is introduced by the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol. However, because Peres sustained a painful injury to his leg on Monday, the ceremonies were moved to a smaller reception room adjacent to his office.

The first ambassador to present his credentials was Thailand’s Nuttavudh Photisaro, whose English is infinitely better than his predecessors’ – possibly because he spent several years as consul- general in Los Angeles.

The Thai national anthem could be heard across the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbiyeh as early as 8:15 a.m.



as the Police Band rehearsed it again and again. Through Photisaro, Peres – an ardent advocate for gender equality – conveyed his congratulations to Thailand’s recently elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as well as expressing concern about the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Photisaro assured him that following brain surgery, the king is much better.

Peres congratulated Photisaro on Thailand’s economic growth, and raised the subject of efforts to make peace with the Palestinians and the UN vote in September for the creation of a Palestinian state, reiterating what he has been saying for months: that the Palestinians can receive a UN declaration, but not peace – because peace must be negotiated. He voiced the hope that Thailand would support this approach in September. The new ambassador hinted that despite the geographical distance between Israel and Thailand, government to government and people to people, “we understand you very well.”

The second ambassador was Albania’s Bujar Skendo, to whom Peres expressed admiration for the progress Albania has made in a relatively short time. Skendo appeared more interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declaring that Albania firmly believed it would be resolved through negotiation.

He added that he was greatly impressed by Israel’s friendliness and achievements.

Mindful of the fact that Albanians had rescued Jews during the Holocaust and that 70 percent of Albania’s population was Muslim, Peres cited Albania as proof that Jews and Muslims could live together. Skendo was interested in Israeli investments in projects in his country, and was assured that Peres would do all that was possible to help.

Peres told Hatziargrou that Israel had embarked on a new chapter in relations with Cyprus, and endorsed a proposal made only two days earlier by Greek President Karolos Papoulias that Greece, Cyprus and Israel should form some kind of cooperative triangle on matters relating to water and energy.

“Now that we share gas, we have to work together,” said Peres, who saw the island state as a meeting point where different parties in the region could find common ground. “Cyprus could take the Middle East out of its present situation,” added the president, with his usual utopian vision. He envisaged great potential for Cyprus as a center for banking, commerce and health given its membership in the European Union and proximity to the Middle East. Dubbing Cyprus “the European in the Middle East,” he congratulated Hatziargrou on what Cyprus had done to become a desirable tourist destination. Hatziargrou spoke of “a fantastic development” in the bilateral relationship in recent years, saying he appreciated Israel’s instant response “during this time of trial... Your doctors were the first to arrive.”

Cyprus has always been a country that pushes for peace, Hatziargrou stressed. “We have to overcome division in our country and act in a way that brings all the people in the region together to further the idea of peace. We are your friends and we are encouraged by the increased interest of Israel in Cyprus.”

Ecuador’s Ambassador Guillermo Bassante Ramirez brought greetings from President Rafael Correa, and was asked by Peres to transmit an invitation to Correa to pay a state visit to Israel. Ecuadorian Vice President Lenin Moreno Garces, who is a paraplegic, visited Israel recently and met with Peres two weeks ago. Peres suggested he visit Kibbutz Kishurim, which focuses on what people with disabilities can do rather than on what they can’t. He also recommended Beit Issie Shapiro, which develops amazing treatment programs for children and adults with a broad range of disabilities. The vice president made it to Beit Issie Shapiro, but didn’t have time to go to Kishurim, so he sent two deputies.

The Ecuadorians were so impressed with the work done in both places that they want to emulate both institutions in all Ecuador’s provinces.

Ramirez asked for help with this, and Peres agreed to facilitate introductions to the right people.

Ramirez noted that Ecuador had been one of the first countries to recognize Israel, and that it had given shelter to Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. Ecuador’s gates had always been open to Jews, he said.

Andrew Gbebabay Bangali, the non-resident ambassador of Sierra Leone, is stationed in Addis Ababa, where one of his closest friends is Israel’s ambassador Oded Ben Haim.

Peres praised the efforts made by President Ernest Bai Koroma to block the passage “of a ship carrying your flag for a foolish mission.” Koroma’s intervention helped prevent a Sierra Leone-flagged ship that was part of “Freedom Flotilla II” from sailing from Greece to Gaza. Peres asked Bangali to convey a personal invitation to Koroma to visit Israel.

Bangali had come with a “shopping list”: a request for technological assistance in developing agriculture, and Israel’s help in creating a system offering free medical services. Bangali appealed to Israeli investors to take up joint ventures in agriculture, mining, fishing and other areas. “With the right type of partnership, we can both benefit from our natural resources,” he said.

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