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Greece, Israel pledge to boost defence ties
by Staff Writers
Athens (AFP) Jan 10, 2012

Greece and Israel pledged Tuesday to boost defence cooperation with a view to improving regional stability, their defence ministers told reporters.

"We are committed to work together to deepen our relations in defence and security," said Israel's Ehud Barak. "We have to be prepared for many kinds of developments. ... We must think ahead of time and work together."

Traditionally pro-Arab Greece, which did not officially recognise Israel until 1991, has stepped up efforts to attract investment and expertise to shore up its debt-struck economy.

The two countries are trying to "make up for lost time", Greek Defence Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said, asserting Greece's "commitment to deepening the alliance with Israel ... in the name of friendship, peace and stability for all the peoples of the region".

Barak's two-day visit is the fourth by a senior Israeli official in 17 months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited in August 2010, followed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in January 2011 and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in November, when Israel hosted a joint exercise with the Greek air force.

He said their cooperation was "honest and sincere (and) not directed against anyone", in a reference to Turkey, formerly a staunch ally of Israel but now on deteriorating terms with the Jewish state.

"To the contrary, this cooperation can create new sources of wealth for the entire region," Avramopoulos said at a time when Greece, lumbered with a severe debt crisis, hopes for economic benefits from closer ties with Israel.

Athens is keenly interested in Israel's economic rapprochement with traditional Greek ally Cyprus to develop undersea gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.

Pro-Palestinian Greek activists meanwhile have denounced Barak's visit, with a rights group calling him a "war criminal", and were set to stage a protest in central Athens later Tuesday.

Last July, Greece banned a flotilla of ships headed for Gaza from leaving its ports on a mission to break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory.

An Israeli raid last year on another Gaza-bound aid flotilla left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, all of them Turks or of Turkish origin, and precipitated a diplomatic crisis with Greece's regional rival Turkey.

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S.Africa, Cuba formalise defence cooperation
Johannesburg (AFP) Jan 10, 2012 - South Africa and Cuba on Tuesday signed a memorandum to put a stamp on the cooperation between the two country's armies, a spokesman said.

Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu signed the memorandum of understanding with Ulises Rosales del Toro, the vice-president of Cuba's council of ministers, according to defence ministry spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini.

"We're cementing that South Africa-Cuban defence cooperation," Dlamini told AFP.

The two countries have already worked together in the past, but the agreement formalises exchanges in the air force, veterans, military health and education, training and development.

"They're bringing their instructors. The main target is military health," said Dlamini.

"The memorandum gives a framework on operations, but the details are left to the officials."

"We are looking to introduce Cuba to our defence industry," he said, adding that South Africa could also share its experiences in peace-keeping with Cuba.

The island state supported South Africa's ruling African National Congress during its struggle against apartheid.

It opposed the apartheid regime and sent some 50,000 troops to Angola who fought South African apartheid forces until their withdrawal in the late '80s.

The two countries established diplomatic relations at the fall of white-minority rule in 1994.

They set up a joint bilateral commission in February 2001 and have since cooperated in a number of projects including sending South African medical students to study in Cuba.

Cuban doctors and teachers have also come to work in South Africa.

A 2004-agreement between South Africa and Cuba resulted in the deployment of 101 Cuban doctors to Mali, with financial backing from South Africa.

In 2008 South Africa forgave Cuba's debt of 926.8-million-rand ($117 million, 73 million euro).


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Israel increases defence budget by $700 million
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 8, 2012
Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday an increase of nearly $700 million in the defence budget, after saying last year that he would cut military spending to finance social reforms. "We are going to add three million shekels to the defence budget," Netanyahu told a news conference. Netanyahu had in October supported the recommendations of a report he commissioned, by res ... read more

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