I should take up Hebrew just incae they want to hire local staff if and when they open a Consulate or Embassy here
Israel to let Pakistanis visit holy shrines
By Zia Iqbal Shahid
BRUSSELS: The stipulation of "all countries of the world except Israel" in Pakistani passport will not hamper the realisation of the dreams of Pakistani Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and other venerated holy shrines in Al-Quds Al-Sharif as Israeli government declares that Pakistani citizens are allowed to visit Israel whenever they wish to do so.
Talking to The News, Israeli ambassador, accredited to EU and also covering the NATO, Dr Oded Eran, said Israeli consulates across the globe would not refuse any visa application submitted by any Pakistani. In the circumstance that Pakistan has no diplomatic relations with Israel, Israeli consulates would grant visa to most of the Pakistani applicants assuming that their "passports are valid".
"Israel has imposed no restriction on Pakistanis intending to travel to Israel. Recognition of Israel by the Government of Pakistan is not there, as yet, but Pakistanis are free to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and other shrines and holy places in Jerusalem after getting their visas stamped from Israeli consulates in any nearest neighbouring country of Pakistan", Ambassador Oded Eran continued.
He said: "It is up to Pakistan to keep the stipulation of 'all countries of the world except Israel' or delete it; Israel will not block any Pakistanis visit to Israel. All holy places in Israel are open for not only Pakistanis but also for Muslims from all Islamic countries. We would like to live peacefully with Islamic countries, some of them have already recognised us and others are talking on this issue".
Oded Eran had been extensively involved in Israel's official talks with several Islamic countries. In a previous interview with The News, Ambassador Eran was the first to trigger the debate on Israel's recognition by Pakistan, when he stated that Israel would follow an even-handed approach in his country's relations with India and Pakistan if Pakistan decided to accord recognition to Israel. Later, President Pervez Musharraf, during an interview with The Geo TV channel, took a note of the views expressed by the Israeli official representative and encouraged an open debate on this issue.
Asked whether any kind of official contact existed between Israel and Pakistan, Eran said, "I am not aware of any official contact so far. Israeli and Pakistani diplomats do meet informally in various capitals of the world and they do have friendly exchanges but you cannot call it official contacts".
Hoping that Muslim countries would come to terms to the existence of Israel, Eran declared, "We do not have any conflict with any Muslim country, including Pakistan. We do not have any conflict with Islam, as a religion and we hope that Islamic countries will respond positively".
The Israeli envoy was optimistic that the entire Muslim world would recognise Israel as he claimed such indicators were there.
"I have already visited six Muslim countries, including some of those which have not accorded recognition to Israel," Eran said, but declined to give further details when asked to identify such Islamic countries. "I notice lots of goodwill in Islamic countries and that is very encouraging for us," he said.
Making repeated reference to Israeli government's permission to citizens from Pakistan and other Islamic countries to visit Israel, he said, "Not only that I have visited six Islamic countries, thousands of Muslims from these countries are visiting the holy places like Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most important Muslim place of prayer after Makkah and Medina, built in AD 720, is situated on the southernmost side of the Temple Mount, Al-Quds Al-Sharif. Dome of the Rock in Al-Quds is a gloriously beautiful Islamic shrine, built in A D 691. The rock is also believed to have been the point from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to glimpse heaven during the miraculous night journey described in the 17th Sura of the Quran.
Enquired about any official demand made by the Israeli government to obliterate the "Valid for all countries except Israel" inscription from Pakistani Passport, Oded Eran said, "It entirely depends on Pakistan to consider it. We will not prevent Pakistanis desiring to visit Israel or go to the holy places because of this stipulation in their passport".
To a question on the possibility of designating third countries to look after the interests of Israel and Pakistan in their respective capitals prior to establishing full diplomatic relations, he said: "We are interested in developing diplomatic relations with Pakistan in any form acceptable to both the countries. Yes, Pakistan and Israel may agree on the countries which would safeguard their interests in both the capital. Or alternatively, both the countries may have their diplomats, for a start, operating from the embassies of some friendly countries in the capitals of Pakistan and Israel".
[Edited 2003-07-30 12:31:35]