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 diplomatic source told AFP.
“This is a working visit of just one day,” he said, indicating Kiir would also meet President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But the source said the aim was to keep the visit “low-profile” at the request of South Sudan, and Kiir was not expected to make any public remarks.
The South Sudanese leader arrived late on Monday, press reports said, and was due to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.
Israel recognized 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.
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.