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Israeli Embassy in New Zealand to reopen

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Israel will open a new embassy in New Zealand next month amid signs of warming relations between Wellington and Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia — which has tended to diplomatic affairs in the island nation since 2002 — confirmed last Friday that Shemi Tzur, 64, a former envoy to Finland, Cyprus and Estonia, is expected to take up the post of ambassador to New Zealand in April.

“It’s the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between Israel and New Zealand,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also confirmed that Yuval Rotem, Israel’s envoy in Canberra, will make a farewell visit to New Zealand next week.

The Israeli mission in Wellington was closed in 2002 amid cost-cutting measures by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

In 2004, relations between Israel and New Zealand cooled after two alleged Mossad agents were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport. As a result, New Zealand suspended high-level diplomatic relations for more than a year until Israel apologized in 2005.

Bilateral relations have since thawed, helped in part by the defeat of Helen Clark and her Labor Party in 2008 elections. She was succeeded by Conservative leader John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee from Austria who has family living in Israel.

“There’s no reason why New Zealand can’t enjoy good diplomatic relations with Israel,” Key was quoted by 3News as saying.

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