Netanyahu hails ‘great friend’ Harper on Israel visit

Stephen Harper will address the Knesset, or parliament, then travel to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began his first official visit to Israel on Sunday, with his Israeli counterpart hailing him as a "great friend" of the Jewish state and people.

Canada is one of Israel’s staunchest allies and was one of the few countries that opposed a successful Palestinian bid for upgraded status at the United Nations in 2012.

“Prime Minister Harper, my good friend Stephen, welcome to Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a reception in his Jerusalem office in honor of the first visiting Canadian premier since 2000.

“You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, noting Harper’s “courage, clarity and conviction” on “fighting terror,” anti-Semitism and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“And when it comes to Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s annihilation and its unrelenting development of nuclear weapons -- you and Canada stood unflinchingly on the right side of history,” Netanyahu said.

Harper said he and his delegation were “delighted to be in Israel.”

Prior to arriving at Netanyahu’s office, Harper visited the Mount of Olives in the annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem, according to the Canadian embassy.

In April 2013, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird sparked Palestinian anger after he met an Israeli minister in annexed east Jerusalem, deliberately breaking a widely-observed diplomatic taboo.

Netanyahu’s effusive remarks were made just days after he slammed the European Union over its “hypocritical” stance on the conflict after several member states summoned the Israeli representatives to complain about its recent settlement announcements.

During the visit, Harper will on Monday address the Knesset, or parliament, then travel to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

On Tuesday, Harper, who is accompanied by several cabinet ministers, will hold talks with President Shimon Peres.

Harper will discuss trade and security matters, including “persistent threats posed by the Iranian regime, the ongoing instability in Syria and the Middle East peace process,” his spokesman Jason MacDonald told reporters in Ottawa on Friday.

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