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Israel, Greece and Cyprus hold first joint firefighting drill

​The joint exercise is the first practical result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's initiative to build a wide-ranging system of emergency cooperation between the countries.

The joint fire-fighting exercise currently being held by Israel, Greece and Cyprus, led by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli embassy in Nicosia together with the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority, the National Emergency Authority and the National Security Council, reached its peak today (Wednesday, 13 April 2016). The joint exercise is the first practical result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's initiative to build a wide-ranging system of emergency cooperation between the countries, including firefighting and handling of natural disasters.

The exercise, the first of its kind between the countries, is also the first time Israeli firefighting teams have trained abroad. The goal is to construct a web of strategic relationships and bilateral and multilateral cooperation which will be functional during emergency situations.

About 160 people from all three countries will be participating in the drill, including: From the Israeli side- 3 firefighting planes, Israel Air Force coordination teams and about 50 firefighters; from Cyprus - over 20 fire trucks, the Cypriot forestry firefighting department, a Cypriot Air Force rescue helicopter and about 100 firefighters; from the Greek side, a firefighting helicopter and approximately 20 firefighters. Likud Party MK Nava Boker may join the exercise on the second day.

The promotion of the strategic cooperation in a sphere such as firefighting in the local and regional public and media realms provides the decision makers from all sides with political leeway vis-à-vis neighboring countries, and also provides additional flexibility in the promotion of other endeavors of strategic cooperation.

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Greece Offers New Bailout Concessions

VOA News, Debt-ridden Greece offered concessions Wednesday on its creditors' demands for more austerity measures, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras still urged his nation to vote "no" in a referendum Sunday on the lenders' plan for new restrictions in exchange for more bailout loans.

European leaders contend that a Greek vote against the lenders' plan would amount to Athens withdrawing from the 19-nation euro currency bloc, but Tsipras rejected that argument.

"A 'no' vote is a decisive step for a better agreement, which we will aim to sign straight after the referendum," the prime minister said in a televised speech to his countrymen. " 'No' does not mean a rupture with Europe."

Earlier, Tsipras told Greece's international creditors in a letter that Athens is prepared to accept most of Europe's terms for new bailout money. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected new negotiations, telling her country's parliament in Berlin, "We will wait for the referendum. There can be no negotiations on a new aid program before the referendum."

The Greek letter to creditors was shared with news outlets hours before a teleconference of eurozone finance ministers on Athens' request for $32.4 billion in new funding. After the meeting, however, the finance chiefs decided not to negotiate any more ahead of the Sunday vote.

US expresses concern

In Washington, President Barack Obama said Tuesday the Greek financial crisis is "an issue of substantial concern," but one that affects Europe more than the United States. Obama said the U.S. does not believe the ongoing financial turmoil will result in "a major shock" to the American economy, the world's largest.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who spoke with several European finance ministers by telephone Tuesday, said afterward that it is in the best interests of all parties, and for the global economy, if Greece and its creditors continue to work toward a solution that puts Greece on a path toward reform and recovery within the eurozone.

Eurozone

The German leader, Europe's staunchest advocate for tough austerity measures in Greece, rejected the notion that the Greek financial turmoil would lead to the demise of the eurozone.

"The world is watching us," she said. "But the future of Europe is not at stake. The future of Europe would be at stake if we forgot who we are and what makes us strong — a community based on rules and responsibility."

Eurozone finance ministers had decided not to extend a bailout program for Greece on Tuesday, and the Greek government failed to make a $1.8 billion loan payment to the International Monetary Fund. That default marked the first time a developed country has failed to meet a payment deadline on an IMF loan.

The Fitch ratings agency Tuesday downgraded Greece's credit rating further into "junk" status, meaning it considers the country likely to default on private debt.
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