First Commercial Flight From Albania to Land at B-G Airport Thurs.

Israir operating flight of 175 tourists, hopes for standard direct line to be established by May.

The first commercial flight from Albania to Israel, operated by Israir, will land at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday.

The flight from Albania's capital, Tirana, will carry 175 passengers, mainly business and communications people from the Muslim state.

This is the first time Albania has allowed an Israeli airline to operate a commercial flight from its limits.

Israir's commercial manager Shai Marina said that Israir had worked in conjunction with the Israeli embassy in Albania and various other sources to obtain the required security permits.

An additional flight is set to leave Albania in March and is expected to carry other tourist groups. Beginning May, Israir hopes to operate a standard direct line between the two states.

Heritage Tours owner Hanoch Segev said that some 5,000 Albanian tourists were expected to visit Israel in 2008. "We are talking about large tourism potential and I am excited that it is being actualized," he said.

Albania in the last year has become a strategic tourist destination for Israel, as the two states work to strengthen their ties. The southeastern European state has some 3.5 million residents, 70 percent of them Sunni Muslims and 30 percent Christians.