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Russia, Israel visa-free system deal may be signed in March

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MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - An agreement to introduce a visa-free regime between Russia and Israel could be signed in March this year, an Israeli minister said on Tuesday.

Russia and Israel announced late last year that a feasibility study had been concluded canceling

visas, and the two countries had launched domestic procedures for drafting a corresponding agreement.

"I hope that all protocol issues will be resolved in March and the agreement on the visa-free regime will be signed," said Ruhama Avraham-Balila, a minister without portfolio and co-chairman of a committee on relations between Russian and Israeli.

She added that in order for the document to come into force three months should pass after it has been signed.

During an official visit to Moscow in mid-January Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a meeting with Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov that coordination of the agreement was being concluded.

Last month Vladimir Slutsker, a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament, said that of more than 2 million tourists who visited Israel in 2007, half a million were U.S. nationals followed by 250,000 French visitors. Russian tourists held third place with more than 100,000 people.

He also said that visa-free travel between the two countries would be both economically useful and historically natural. He said immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics accounted for over 1 million of Israel's 7 million citizens. Visits to friends and relatives would probably rise dramatically if visas were lifted, he said.

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