South Sudan leader visits Israel
Jerusalem - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Tuesday visited Israel for the first time for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials, a foreign ministry statement said.
"This is a working visit of just one day," a diplomatic source said, indicating that the aim was to keep the visit "low-profile" at the request of South Sudan.
Kiir, who arrived late on Monday, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum early on Tuesday before holding talks with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres and was to have a working lunch with Netanyahu, Israeli sources said.
He was also expected to meet Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during the afternoon before leaving in the early evening, officials said.
The Sudanese leader, who is travelling with his ministers for foreign affairs, defence and for the presidency, was met on arrival by deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, a ministry statement said.
"Your choice of Israel as one of your first destinations to visit as president demonstrates the deep friendship and the natural partnership which exists between South Sudan and Israel," Ayalon told him.
Israel recognised South Sudan and established full diplomatic relations with Kiir's government shortly after it declared independence in July following a 22-year civil war with the mostly-Muslim north.
The Jewish state does not have relations with Khartoum, which it has accused of serving as a base for Islamic militants, and instead supported the rebel movement of the mainly Christian and animist south during the war.
Israel's ties with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which is now the south's ruling party, have reportedly long been close, with the Jewish state allegedly providing arms during the war, although neither side has publicly acknowledged any weapons transfers.
Ayalon said there was "great potential" for shared activity between the two nations and described the visit as having "great importance" for bilateral ties.
South Sudan's route to independence - implementing a peace deal with Khartoum, after which it joined the UN - was "the proper model" which should also be adopted by the Palestinians, Ayalon said.
"The story of your independence ought to set a very good example for anyone interested in achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East. A country cannot emerge virtually," he said referring to Palestinian attempts to secure full UN membership in a move which has greatly angered Israel.
Tuesday's meetings were expected to focus on the issue of refugees.
Israel is home to thousands of refugees from the former united Sudan, including hundreds from the south.
So far, this year, more than 12 000 illegal immigrants have sneaked across the Egyptian border into southern Israel, the vast majority of them economic migrants from Africa, prompting Israel to ramp up measures to stop the flow.
Netanyahu has said he will visit Africa in the coming months to discuss the issue of illegal immigration, but did not say which countries he would visit.
Press reports suggested he would travel in February to visit Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, but he was not expected to visit South Sudan out of security concerns.