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19 Sep, 2008 17:53

Russia and Israel launch visa-free travel

Travelling from Russia to the Promised Land has never been easier – from September 20 those Russian citizens entering to Israel will no longer need visas. The deal was signed in March in the hope of expanding cultural and tourism ties between t

It’s expected the number of Russian tourists will increase. Israeli Tourism Minister Rukhama Abraham says: “In 2007 we received 193,000 Russian tourists. By 2009 we expect that more than 400,000.”

Russians will be able to stay in Israel without a visa for 90 days, meaning they can take full advantage of the long summer and Israel’s beaches. But tour guides are also hoping for the more discerning cultural visitor.

“A tourist from Russia is looking for something to touch his soul, to see Israel’s sacred places and the religious sights. But of course he won't forget about normal secular life – and there are plenty of places to go,” said Aleksey Zabludovsky, a tour guide.

This all makes good business sense but the visa relaxation will also help people who travel for personal reasons. Almost one fifth of Israel’s population comes from the former Soviet Union and they’ve welcomed the news.

The reciprocal deal was signed back in March 2008. It was a big step for the two countries.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed following the six-day war in 1967. Real improvement was made when former Russian president Vladimir Putin visited three years ago. Now attention is firmly focused on the future.