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U.S. Jewish leaders assured on Greece-Israel ties

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — Greek officials assured a visiting delegation of American Jewish leaders that relations between Israel and Greece are serious and have nothing to do with the cooling of Israel’s ties with Turkey.

About 60 representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations were in Greece as part of Greek efforts to improve relations with Israel. They visited major Greek cities Athens and Thessaloniki for talks with Greek state and Jewish community officials.

The delegation met Feb. 8 with Greek government ministers, including the foreign minister and his deputy, and later with Prime Minister George Papandreou, who  announced that the Israeli and Greek Cabinets would hold a joint session in Israel in April.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis announced that beginning next month, Greek Jews whose citizenship was revoked immediately after World War II would be entitled to reclaim it. Many Jews returning to Greece after the war who wanted to immigrate were forced to relinquish their Greek citizenship to obtain a passport.

Many Greek Jews, especially those in Israel, have tried over the years to reclaim their citizenship, mostly without success. The law will apply to their children as well.

Regarding the diplomatic upgrade of the Palestinian Authority’s delegation in Athens from mission to embassy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras told a news briefing during the delegation’s visit that it should not affect relations with Israel following a period of rapprochement with the Jewish state.

"I cannot imagine a reason why there would be a problem on behalf of the Israeli side. Our cooperation with Israel is very good," said Delavekouras. "This reflects the level of relations between Greece and the Palestinian Authority. Israel knows that it has a reliable interlocutor in Greece, precisely because Greece has the confidence of all sides … and can help promote the peace process"  in the Middle East.

The Presidents Conference delegation also met with Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arie Mekel; the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Daniel Shmith; the president of the Athens Jewish community, Beni Albala; and the president of the Central Jewish Board of Greece, David Saltiel.

It was organization’s first visit to Greece, according to the Greek government. For more than two decades, prior to its annual Leadership Mission to Israel, Presidents Conference leaders visit a different country. The American leaders flew to Jerusalem for the 37th annual mission Feb. 13-17.

The delegation’s briefing by Greek officials was organized by the Greek Foreign Ministry.

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