U.S. Sailors Return to Haifa

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CBNNews.com - HAIFA, Israel - Four hundred crew members of the USS Aegis are enjoying a five-day holiday in Israel's northern port city.

On Sunday, ship Capt. Mark Genung docked the guided missile cruiser in Haifa's port to provide the sailors with some well-deserved shore time.

The municipality welcomed the visitors, a reminder of former times when U.S. Navy crews visited the city with some regularity.

Roni Grossman, the municipality's deputy spokesman, said that in 1979, five to 10 ships from the U.S. Sixth Fleet docked at Haifa's port. By the mid-80s, that number had grown to 40 to 50 ships.

"It was magnificent for the city's economy," Grossman recalled. "They visited restaurants and pubs and restocked ship supplies," he said.

In October 2000, a month after the second intifada (armed Palestinian uprising) began, 17 sailors were killed aboard the USS Cole, docked in the port of Aden, Yemen, in a suicide bombing by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.

Though Haifa's port was still considered safe, the U.S. Navy stopped its visits, according to Jonathan Friedland, the American consul in Haifa.

Haifa mayors, in concert with U.S. Embassy officials, asked the Navy to restate Haifa as a port of call for the Sixth Fleet.

"The U.S. Navy has always had an excellent working relationship with the municipality," Friedland said.

"Not only is there a huge economic impact for Haifa, but hosting the sailors is a great tradition of the city. Their visit has been absolutely positive," he said.

"It's significant that there is a renewed connection between Israel and the American navy," Grossman said, though the numbers were considerably smaller than the thousands who came in the past.

"Now we're doing everything we can to show the sailors a good time," Grossman said.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

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