Israel lures record number of tourists

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THERE'S nothing like war, or the distant threat of it, to deter a potential tourist. So the prospect of peace in the Mideast is especially sweet to Israeli tourism promoters.

On Tuesday, the first tourism fair ever held in Israel opened in Tel Aviv, attracting travel agents from around the world with this pitch: Soon, operators hope, travelers will be able to fly in and out of one airport, but visit Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt on the same trip. Currently, Egypt is the only other Mideast country that will allow in a tourist who has been to Israel.

Yet Israel's tourist industry is booming. Bouncing back from the Gulf war, when Iraqi Scud missiles scared away visitors, Israel hosted a record 1.94 million tourists last year. This year's figures should be up 14 percent, says Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Orly Doron. And if the Mideast peace talks prosper, she says, ``tourism to the region will bloom.''

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