President Mahinda Rajapaksa due to arrive in Israel on a four day visit

SRI LANKAN President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to arrive in Israel on a four day visit next week accompanied by a high ranking delegation.

He will spend two days in Israel and two days in the Palestinian Authority, Sri Lanka’s state run radio reported. Rajapaksa will meet with President Shimon Peres and with PA President Mahmoud Abbas as well as with other Israeli and Palestinian dignitaries. He is the first Sri Lankan president to visit Israel. The purpose of the visit is to strengthen bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinians in various fields, especially agriculture, tourism and trade.

Abbas visited Sri Lanka in April 2013 and signed bilateral agreements for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of evasion of income tax. In September of 2013, Sri Lanka signed a bilateral trade agreement with Israel during a visit to the island by a top level Israeli business delegation. Some of the members of the delegation expressed an interest in investing in hydro-power, information technology, tourism, and agriculture with specific focus on the dairy industry.

Israel and Sri Lanka initially established relations in the late 1950s, but the ties were severed on several occasions by Sri Lanka which nonetheless requested help from Israel in its ongoing struggle against the Tamil Tigers. Despite the fact that diplomatic relations had been broken since 1972, because Sri Lanka objected to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, president Chaim Herzog unofficially visited Sri Lanka in November 1986 within the framework of his three weeks tour of the South Pacific and met with then president Junius R.Jayewardene.

During that tour of the South Pacific, Herzog also paid an unofficial visit to the Chinese mainland. Since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Sri Lanka in May 2000, there has been no break. Sri Lanka is currently represented in Israel by Ambassador Sarath Devesena Wijesinghe, who presented his credentials to President Peres in February, 2013. The agreement to renew diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level was signed at the United Nations building in New York by David Levy, who was then Israel’s foreign minister, and John de Saran, ambassador extraordinary who was Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Since then there has been close cooperation between the defense establishments of the two countries, with Sri Lanka making extensive purchases of Israeli defense equipment including Kfir fighter jets and Dvora patrol vessels.

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