Sunday, April 16, 2006

Israel and Albania seek closer ties

By Ashley Perry
European Jewish Press
Israel and Albania are looking to have closer ties with an increase of interest in the economic and political spheres. These prospects were given a massive boost when a high-ranking Israeli official visited Tirana last month.

Israeli firms are interested in investing in a number of sectors, including telecommunications, healthcare, energy and high tech. An Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation, led by the ministry’s deputy director, Ambassador Mark Sofer was happy with bilateral contacts between the two nations.

"Good relations"

"Israel and Albania have had good relations in these 15 years, and we signed in Tirana an economic and political agreement between both countries. With Albanian officials we also discussed the Middle East situation and the Balkans, which remain crucial issues for both countries," Sofer told the Albanian media.

While in Tirana, the delegation met with Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Edith Harxhi.

Sofer was quick to stress that many Israeli firms already operated in Albania, particularly in the agricultural sector.

"We are looking forward to boosting relations in marketing, health and agriculture," Sofer said. "These fields have been identified as being of interest for both countries," he added, also mentioning projects for the school system to become up to date technologically, as well as improving infrastructure and telecommunications.

During his visit, Sofer stressed the historical links and fondness of many Jews to Albania.

"Albania has no history of anti-Semitism"

"Not only in Israel, but all over the world, Jews admire Albania. Not just for the period of World War II, when Albania saved the Jews, but also because the country is well-known for its respect towards us. I can say that Albania has never had anti-Semitism," he said.

Albania was one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that did not lose any of its Jewish population during World War II to the Nazis, while also offering shelter to other Jews who had escaped into Albania from Serbia, Austria, and Greece.

With the advent of democracy in 1991, almost all of Albania’s Jews immigrated to Israel. This left a very small number of Jews remaining in Albania.

Albania currently has a diplomatic representative mission in Tel Aviv, while Israel has indicated that it plans to open an embassy in Tirana in the near future.

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