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* Sri Lankan, Israeli Presidents discuss peace in Middle East
Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 09:24 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Jan 09, Jerusalem: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who arrived in Jerusalem as the final stop of his tri-nation official tour in Middle East, met his Israeli counterpart President Shimon Peres on Thursday at his office in Jerusalem.

Welcoming the first Sri Lankan head of the state to visit Israel despite long existing diplomatic relations with the state since 1956, President Peres commended his Sri Lankan counterpart as a great leader for eradicating the three decades long terrorism and bringing peace, reconciliation and restoration to the country which is not a small achievement.

President Peres called the achievements during President Rajapaksa's tenure a "very impressive record."

Israeli President said he is well aware of the difficulties President Rajapaksa faced in bringing peace to the country and Israel follows the President's achievements with great admiration.

Stating that "Sri Lanka is blessed with highly intelligent people with a wealth of history," President Peres added that it is important to focus on the positive achievements.

President Rajapaksa, while thanking Israel for its assistance in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing-Day tsunami, elaborated on the developments that have taken place in Sri Lanka since the end of the war. The President pointed out that Sri Lanka focused on providing the basic needs (such as roads, electricity, healthcare, education and employment) and, within a short period of four years, made significant progress in the areas of reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation.

In discussing the Israeli-Palestinian situation, President Rajapaksa reiterated Sri Lanka's commitment to the UN-recommended two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace.

Sri Lankan President apprising Peres of his government's efforts for reconciliation in the island nation offered his help in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We always support peace," President Rajapaksa said. "We always supported the two-state policies. Our support is there for peace for all people."

Following the meeting with the Israeli President, President Rajapaksa met with a group of members of the Israeli business community who are currently engaged in business activities in Sri Lanka. The discussions centered on further improving business relations by exploring a number of sectors in which business persons from Israel could invest. Some of the areas discussed included agriculture, dairy production, irrigation, the tea industry and distance learning.

Following discussions, the President visited the Grove of Nations Forest in Jerusalem and planted an olive tree.

The Grove of Nations is found in the Jerusalem Forest and makes up a part of the Olive Tree Route, a part of the initiative led by UNESCO and the Council of Europe to establish an Olive Tree Route around the entire Mediterranean basin expressing the common desire for peace and co-existence.

President Rajapaksa yesterday held bilateral discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.

During the bilateral talks between President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Netanyahu Sri Lanka and Israel agreed to expand bilateral relations in a number of sectors, including trade, agriculture and water.

Parliamentarian Roshan Ranasinghe, Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Israel Sarath D. Wijesinghe, Israel's Non-Resident Ambassador to Sri Lanka in New Delhi Alon Ushpiz and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga were present at these events.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

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