JERUSALEM, Feb. 5 -- Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki arrived in Israel Monday for a brief visit with Prime Minister Shimon Peres and President Ezer Weizman, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said. In an hour-long meeting with Peres, the two leaders promised to strengthen cooperation, especially in the areas of agriculture and fisheries, said spokeswoman Aliza Goren.
Afwerki also met Health Minister Ephraim Sneh to discuss cooperation in public health. Israel considers Eritrea, a country bordering Ethiopia and the Red Sea, a strategic site. Since Eritrea declared independence in 1993, Israel has aided the country's developing agricultural and medical fields, the Ha'artez newspaper reported. However, Israeli and Eritrean officials deny Israel has granted military support to the country. 'It's been rumored for last 30 or 40 years that Israel has bases in the Red Sea,' Afwerki told Israel Radio. 'It is not true.' Afwerki added Israel had no reason to help Eritrea fight its neighbors while the Israeli government conducted a peace process with the Arab nations in the region. He cited Arab factionalism and Eritrea's continuing battles with Sudan and Yemen as the reason for the misinformation. 'If you don't agree with an Arab on any issue, (then) you definitely have links with Israel,' Afwerki said. '(It is) a manipulation of the public opinion and the attitude of Arabs, to always link real things with fantasies.' Sneh visited Eritrea last summer to oversee the establishment of a new hospital, Ha'aretz reported. Israeli agricultural experts have set up training centers to teach farming techniques to discharged Eritrean soldiers. Peres was expected to visit Eritrea in November 1995 but canceled the trip following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Afwerki last visited Israel in 1993 when he received a life-saving operation for meningitis.