Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu visits Lithuania

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken the lead as the first Israeli prime minister to set his foot on Lithuania’s soil, following decision to embark on a four-day visit to the country.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Lithuania Thursday during which he will also meet his Latvian and Estonian counterparts, local officials and the Jewish community.

Netanyahu, making the first visit to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister, will be met by Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

Lithuania, a member of the European Union, has not followed Washington in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and supports Iran’s nuclear deal despite opposition from the United States and Israel.

“This visit is a very good chance to build further the strategic partnership both countries demonstrated an interest to develop,” Marius Laurinavicius, a senior expert at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis told The Associated Press.

“Much remains to be done, but as far as I see it, both countries share a lot of interest to make the bilateral relations more active and productive”

The Baltic nation of nearly 3 million was part of the Russian Empire before declaring its independence in 1918. Lithuania was then independent until 1940, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union.

It regained its freedom in 1991 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations at home, has roots in Lithuania — his mother’s parents lived in the central village of Seduva.

More than 90 percent of Lithuania’s 240,000 Jews were killed during World War II.

The role Lithuanian soldiers played in that is sensitive, as the country mainly views itself as a victim of Nazi and Soviet occupations.

During his visit, Netanyahu also will attend a memorial ceremony at the site near Vilnius where up to 100,000 people were killed by Nazi troops and their Lithuanian collaborators, meet relatives of Lithuanians who aided Jews during the war and visit synagogues.

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