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A mutual visa free regime came into force between Russia
A mutual visa free regime came into force between Russia and Israel on Saturday.

Israel has long sought to cancel visa requirements for Russia seeking to double tourist flows from the country to 400,000 annually in the next two years. Israel was the third most popular tourist destination for Russians after the United States and France, according to 2007 statistics.

Observers said visa-free travel between the two countries will be both economically beneficial and historically natural. Immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics account for over 1 million of Israel's 7 million citizens, meaning that visits to friends and relatives are likely to rise dramatically.

The two countries signed an agreement to cancel visa regulations in March.

Israeli authorities, however, recommend Russian tourists hold return tickets, holiday tours, hotel reservations or invitation letters, and credit cards to avoid complications at Israeli passport control.

The first Russian tourist to enter Tel Aviv's airport Saturday was met by journalists and presented with a cap and bunch of flowers.

Maya Epstein was the only traveler on the first flight from Russia early Saturday, who has braved to come to Israel only carrying her foreign passport. The other passengers have secured visas despite the new regulations.

The new regulations allow travelers from Russia to stay in Israel for 90 days without visas. The same rules are in effect for Israelis in Russia.

Holders of diplomatic and business passports are still required to obtain visas. Visas are also necessary for those planning to work or study in Russia or Israel.


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