Israel announced on Tuesday a 700, 000-euro (555,000 U.S. dollars) project sponsored by the European Union (EU) to boost tourism along its historic paths, as the sector is still struggling to recover from the recent war in the Gaza Strip.
The project is part of a 1.5-million-euro (1.2 million dollars) EU initiative to promote cooperation among Mediterranean Sea Basin countries. Partners in the project also include Catalonia in Spain and the Italian island of Sardinia.
The objective of the 20-month project is to "assist in the development of new and traditional small and medium businesses located along cultural tourist routes in the Mediterranean basin," the Ministry of Tourism said in a statement.
Two areas in Israel have been selected -- the Gospel Trail, a 65-km hiking trail in the Galilee which follows important sites from the life of Jesus Christ, and the Incense Route, an ancient trade rout in the Negev desert. "Israel will receive 700,000 euros to advance the project," the ministry said.
The project is critical for local tourism that is still grappling to offset the impact of Israel's 50-day war against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Though tourism centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem stayed intact under the protection of the Iron Dome anti- missile system, harsh images of the war scared off tourists.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson with Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics said that "in September, the impact of the (military) campaign on the number of tourists was still evident, although more moderately than in July and August."
Official figures show that some 179,000 tourists entered Israel in September, down 15 percent year-on-year and also the lowest rate in the last seven years.
In the peak of the fighting in August, tourism saw a 32-percent drop, as only 164,000 tourists entered the country.