Number of tour groups leaps in 2005

Interior Min.: Tour groups from Arab countries visit Israel in record numbers.

The number of tour groups visiting Israel jumped substantially in 2005, including from Arab and Muslim countries, according to figures provided by the Interior Ministry Wednesday. Jordan sent its first tour groups ever - totaling 64 individuals - according to the ministry, and Egypt's numbers rose from 47 tour participants in 2004 to 432 in 2005. Indonesia and Malaysia - two countries that don't have official diplomatic relations with Israel - sent 7,234 and 1,431 tourists respectively on organized tours. The numbers were 4,755 and 654 apiece the year earlier. In 2005 Vietnam and Senegal also appeared for the first time on the lists of organized tour visits kept by the Interior Ministry. Overall, 1,974 tour groups visited this year, comprising 50,077 people, in comparison to the 1,065 tours with 18,142 visitors last year. Michal Yosefov, director of the Interior Ministry's borders and crossings department, attributed the increase to the general improvement in the security situation. She also noted that fewer requests for group visas came in during the summer at the time of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. "Immediately after it was finished and it was okay, suddenly there was an increase," she said.