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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
France calls on Israel to end row
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Israeli officials have sought to play down Mr Sharon's remarks
France has said Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has yet to explain his remarks calling on Jews to flee France in the face of "spiralling anti-Semitism".

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said he had not cancelled a visit to Israel, scheduled for later this year.

But, he said, he expected Israel to explain Mr Sharon's remarks first.

Prime Minister Sharon has said Jews are being persecuted in France and must leave for Israel - angering many French and French-Jewish officials.

Mr Barnier said the row was "a very serious misunderstanding".

He told the Europe 1 radio station it was "a matter of honour for our republic... that each citizen is granted the same protections, the same freedoms, whatever their religious belief".

Paris' pledge

The Israeli leader made his remarks at a gathering of American Jews in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Desecration at a Jewish cemetery in France
Attacks on Jewish targets have been on the rise in France
French President Jacques Chirac responded by saying Mr Sharon would not be welcome in France until he had explained his comments.

The Israeli leader is thought to have been planning a French visit, though no date had been set for it.

Israeli officials later tried to soften Mr Sharon's comments, saying it was the duty of every Israeli leader to encourage Jews to migrate to the Jewish state.

They said Mr Sharon had also praised measures France had taken to curb anti-Semitism.

A recent rise in reported anti-Semitic attacks in France has prompted Paris to pledge to defend its Jewish minority.

The attacks have been linked to neo-Nazi groups and to elements in France's sizeable Muslim minority that claim to be angered by Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Irritation

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

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".

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.




SEE ALSO:
Sharon 'not welcome' in France
19 Jul 04  |  Europe
French Jews 'must move to Israel'
18 Jul 04  |  Middle East
Racist vandals strike in France
14 Jun 04  |  Europe
Cemetery desecrated in France
03 May 04  |  Europe


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