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PM arrives in Cyprus for historic visit

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias at the presidential residence in Nicosia, launching the first visit ever to the island by an Israeli prime minister.

Prior to his departure, Netanyahu, when asked about the agenda of the day-long visit, responded with one word: gas.

Jerusalem sees Cyprus – geographically the closest European country to Israel – as a possible bridge to Europe, especially in regard to energy issues.

One idea on the agenda of the Netanyahu-Christofias talks is the possibility of building a gas pipeline to Cyprus, from which the gas could then be exported elsewhere in Europe. The Delek energy company is interested in a partnership with Cyprus to build a facility where gas from both countries could be processed and sent farther abroad.

This week Cyprus opened its second licensing round for companies interested in searching for gas in its exclusive economic zone. The US Noble Energy company made a huge natural gas find after being the only company to bid for the first tender some five years ago.

“There are many ways we can cooperate on the gas issue in a mutually beneficial manner,” one diplomatic official said.

Cyprus’s interest in developing its off-shore natural gas deposits has created a great deal of tension with Turkey, which has been occupying northern Cyprus since 1974 and claims that Cyprus does not have rights to natural resources in the area.

Netanyahu landed at the military air base in Paphos, in southwestern Cyprus, and then drove an hour and a half to the meeting in Nicosia. He is also set to meet with Cyprus’ head of opposition and foreign minister.

Netanyahu’s visit comes just under a year after the Cypriot president came to Israel, in the first visit by a Cypriot head of state in 11 years.

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