Russia, Israel ink visa deal


Russia’s foreign minister traveled to Israel to finalize a visa-free agreement between the two countries.


Sergei Lavrov arrived in Israel Thursday after making a stop in Syria, where he signed a visa agreement and met with President Bashar Assad. Lavrov is expected to meet with members of Hamas, the Islamist group that maintains control of the Gaza Strip.


Thursday’s agreement was the final step in the plan to abolish the visa regime for business and tourism between Russia and Israel that is more than a year old. The changes, which apply only to trips of two weeks or less, become effective in June.


After Israel streamlined the visa process last year, the number of Russian visitors to Israel increased 76 percent over the next six months. Israeli Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said he expects a visa-free process to draw hundreds of thousands of Russians to Israel.


Lavrov also planned to lobby for a Middle East peace conference as a follow-up to recent talks in Annapolis, Md., though he hopes the dialogue in Moscow will focus on Israel’s relationship with Syria and Lebanon.


“Russia backs the international community’s efforts aimed at ending the spiral of violence as soon as possible,” Lavrov told Russian state-owned television.

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