In the shadow of tragedy, president visits Romania

Peres to thank hosts for help after IAF copter crash.

Peres at Tel Nof (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Peres at Tel Nof
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
The deaths in the crash of an Israel Air Force helicopter in Romania last month will override the usual pomp and ceremony that accompanies a state visit when President Shimon Peres arrives in Romania on Wednesday night.
Six Israeli airmen and a Romanian officer who were participating in a joint exercise were killed when their Yasour helicopter flew into a cliff in thick fog in the Carpathian mountains near Brasov on July 26.
OC Israel Air Force Maj.- Gen. Ido Nehushtan and his Romanian counterpart, Maj.-Gen. Ion-Aurel Stanciu, mounted a joint inquiry into the event and Israeli and Romanian search and rescue teams worked together to find and identify the bodies.
Nehushtan and 10 IAF officers, who are Yasour pilots, will accompany Peres and participate in a memorial service on Thursday afternoon in the main synagogue of Bucharest together with representatives of the Romanian Jewish community and senior members of the Romanian government.
Seven memorial candles will be lit – one for each of the victims of the tragedy.
Three days after the crash, Peres spoke to Romanian President Traian Basescu to thank him on behalf of the State of Israel for the warmth and sensitivity that he, the Romanian Air Force and everyone involved in the search for the bodies had shown. Peres also expressed condolences on the death of the Romanian pilot.
Peres will again express appreciation when he and Basescu meet on Thursday morning.
Basescu paid a state visit to Israel in June 2009, after meetings with various Arab leaders. At that time he told Peres that Syria was definitely interested in resuming negotiations with Israel and did not want to be associated with the Iranian image.
Basescu said that Romania was interested in a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East, and with the aim of making a contribution, was meeting with leaders in the region and studying their viewpoints.
On July 12 of this year, Basescu met in Bucharest with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and told him that Romania supports the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
It is anticipated that he will reiterate this statement at his meeting with Peres, and that it will be reinforced by Prime Minister Emil Boc.
Before visiting Romania, Peres will fly to Bulgaria on a lightning visit, arriving during mid-morning and leaving for Romania in the early evening.
While in Bulgaria, Peres will receive that country’s highest decoration, the Stara Planina, from Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
The medal is in recognition of Peres’s contribution to bilateral and international relations.
Peres will also have a working meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and address 300 members of the Bulgarian Jewish community in the synagogue in Sofia.
In Romania, in addition to the memorial service for the fallen airmen, Peres will on Friday participate in a memorial service at the city’s new monument for Romanian Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Before World War II, there were around 800,000 Jews in Romania. After the war, 400,000 remained. Most of them chose to leave and many made their homes in Israel. Today there are 9,500 Jews in Romania, and approximately 6,500 in Bulgaria.
The visits to Bulgaria and Romania are part of an ongoing project to strengthen ties with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, especially those that are members of NATO and/or the European Union.
Peres was in Slovenia and Croatia in July, and is scheduled to visit Ukraine in September.