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Israel's Vice Premier Shimon Peres to visit Croatia

Israel's Vice Premier Shimon Peres was arriving Thursday Croatia, the second top Israeli official to visit the country lately after shunning it for years because of past nationalism reminiscent of its World War II regime.

Peres was scheduled to meet Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and President Stipe Mesic during a brief trip aimed at discussing bilateral relations, the government said.

Relations had long been strained. Israel recognized Croatia's independence from the ex-Yugoslavia in 1992, but established diplomatic relations only five years later, after the late President Franjo Tudjman deleted sections from his book that questioned the number of Holocaust victims.

Israel maintained cold relations until the 1999 death of Tudjman, whose nationalist government often diminished atrocities committed by the country's World War II pro-Nazi state. About 30,000 Croatian Jews perished in concentration camps at the time; only about 2,500 live here now.

The two countries have had friendly ties since 2000, and Croatia's elected pro-Western governments have condemned fascism and Nazism. In 2001, President Stipe Mesic visited Israel and apologized for the suffering of Jews in the World War II Croatia.

Moshe Katsav - currently suspended as Israeli president - came to Croatia in 2003, and in 2005, Israel named its first resident ambassador to Croatia, Shmuel Meirom.

Peres - a Nobel Peace laureate - is also expected to hold a lecture at Croatian Academy of Science and Arts.

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