Israel`s Netanyahu starts landmark Africa trip

Israel would provide African states with training in "domestic security" and health.

Entebbe: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Uganda on Monday for a rare four-day tour of sub-Saharan Africa, seeking new trade partners and marking the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue in which his brother died.

In a statement just before his departure, Netanyahu called the first visit by an Israeli premier to the region in decades "historic". He is expected to land in Uganda around 1:00 pm (1000 GMT.)

The trip comes at a time when Israel is launching a USD 13-million aid package to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with African countries, said Netanyahu`s office.

Israel would also provide African states with training in "domestic security" and health, it said.

After Uganda, Netanyahu will travel on to Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda, but he is also meeting other African leaders at a summit in Uganda.

"Coming on a journey like this is also very important from diplomatic, economic and security perspectives and I am pleased that Israel is going back to Africa in a big way," Netanyahu said in a statement, adding: "We are opening Africa to Israel again."

The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state in the 1960s.

Following wars between Israel and its neighbours in 1967 and 1973, North African nations led by Egypt put pressure on sub-Saharan African states to cut ties with Israel, which many did.

Relations were not helped by Israel`s friendship with the apartheid regime in South Africa before it fell in 1994.

In an interview with Uganda`s Daily Monitor newspaper ahead of his visit, Netanyahu said his visit was an attempt to thaw relations.

"I`m very open about it, that`s true," Netanyahu said, according to the paper.

Beyond diplomacy and trade, the trip will have deep personal meaning for Netanyahu.

His brother Yonatan was killed in July 1976 as he led a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda, to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans.

Uganda`s deputy foreign minister Henry Okello Oryem told AFP Netanyahu would be given a 19-gun salute on arrival, before "proceeding to the 40th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the old airport terminal."

He later takes part in an anti-terrorism summit alongside leaders from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Zambia, before heading to Nairobi later on Monday.