Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to visit Israel on Wednesday, marking the first such visit in over three decades.
Papandreou will be accompanied on the two-day visit by Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas. The two will also visit the Palestinian Authority.
The Greek leader will meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will be in the United States at the time, met with Papandreou three weeks ago at a gathering of the Socialist International in New York.
Papandreou's visit comes at a time of growing Greek involvement in the Middle East. Several Gaza-bound flotillas - including the latest, the Libyan-sponsored one - have departed from Greek ports. Prior to both May's Turkish flotilla and this month's Libyan-sponsored one, Israel held intensive discussions with Greece in an effort to prevent the ships' departure, delay them or convince them not to try to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip and to unload their cargoes at Egypt's El-Arish or Israel's Ashdod Port instead.
The issue of Gaza will be central to Papandreou's talks in Israel. The Greek government welcomed Israel's decision to end the blockade on civilian imports to the Strip and noted that it was a step in the right decision. However, Greece would like to see further steps taken to ease the blockade, and in particular, would like Israel to start allowing exports from Gaza.
Another issue likely to be discussed is the crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations. Both Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Papandreou have announced a policy of seeking to lower tensions between their two countries, and when Papandreou took office last October, the second visit he made, after Cyprus, was to Ankara.
However, Papandreou is concerned about Turkey's conduct in the region in general, and especially its conduct toward Israel, as well as about the strengthening of Islamic extremism in the country. Netanyahu has spoken with his Greek counterpart at least five times in recent months, especially following Israel's botched raid on the Mavi Marmara on May 31.
In February, Netanyahu met with Papandreou at a restaurant in Moscow when both leaders were visiting the Russian capital. There, they had a long talk about the Iranian nuclear program and Tehran's relations with Ankara. Netanyahu told his Greek colleague that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it will instigate a nuclear arms race throughout the region, and Turkey will also seek nuclear capability.
Following the raid on the Turkish flotilla, Netanyahu spoke with Papandreou on several occasions and informed the cabinet that "the Greeks are also worried about developments in Turkey."
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