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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Sharon 'not welcome' in France
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon's remarks have caused anger in France
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not welcome in France until he explains his call on French Jews to move to Israel, the French president has said.

No date had been set for Mr Sharon to visit France, but Jacques Chirac's office said it would not be considered until "an explanation is forthcoming".

On Sunday Mr Sharon made the call due to what he said was "the spread of the wildest anti-Semitism" in France.

French politicians and Jewish leaders have reacted with indignation.

But an Israeli spokesman sought to play down the remarks, saying Mr Sharon's comments to the American Jewish Association in Jerusalem had been badly reported.

While Mr Sharon urged French Jews to move to Israel because of anti-Semitism, Israel has also encouraged Jewish immigration for demographic reasons.

If the current population trends continue, it is estimated that Jews will be outnumbered by non-Jews in the territory that Israel controls within 10 to 15 years.


The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says Mr Sharon's remarks have left the French government seething with ill-concealed rage.

The Elysee Palace said: "[France] has let it be known that from today an eventual visit by the Israeli prime minister to Paris, for which no date had been set, would not be considered until such an explanation is forthcoming."

The statement followed a request from the foreign ministry for an explanation from Israel of the "unacceptable comments".

French Jews have also found Mr Sharon's comments unhelpful.

Richard Prasquier of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions was quoted by French news agency AFP as saying Mr Sharon had poured "oil on the fire in an unacceptable fashion."

France has suffered a wave of anti-Semitic attacks coinciding with renewed fighting in the Middle East.

The latest French government figures show 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 - compared with 593 for all of last year.

Desecrated signs at a French Jewish cemetery in April 2003
France has seen a spate of attacks against Jewish targets

Mr Sharon acknowledged that France had made efforts to tackle the problem but still said his advice to French Jews was that moving to Israel was "a must and they have to move immediately".

Correspondents say there is irritation in France at the idea that life for Jews there is becoming dangerous - especially as the government has made every effort to show that anti-Jewish acts will be severely punished.

A week ago President Jacques Chirac rushed to condemn an apparently anti-Semitic attack on a Paris train that turned out to be a hoax.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The French government has reacted angrily to Mr Sharon's remarks"

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