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South Sudan president makes lightning visit to Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli leaders and the visiting president of South Sudan reportedly discussed the possibility of repatriating Sudanese migrants to the new country.

Salva Kiir, in Israel on a short working visit, met Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered to send a government delegation to South Sudan to assess how Israel can help the new country, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed.

Kiir also met with President Shimon Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and visited Yad Vashem. His visit lasted less than 24 hours.

Israeli media cited unnamed sources as saying that Netanyahu and Kiir talked about the more than 8,000 Sudanese refugees in Israel and the possibility of repatriating them to South Sudan. Hundreds of illegal migrants from Africa enter Israel each week.

"I am very moved to be in Israel and to walk on the soil of the Promised Land, and with me are all South Sudanese people," Kiir told Peres, according to a statement from the President’s Office. "Israel has always supported the South Sudanese people. Without you, we would not have arisen.

Israel recognized Sudan in July, one day after it declared independence.

Peres told Kiir, "Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it. We know that you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle East and in advancing the values of equality, freedom and striving for peace and good neighborly relations.

Peres presented Kiir with an antique menorah in honor of the start of Chanukah on Tuesday night.

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