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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 21:15 GMT 22:15 UK
Sharon arrives in Paris for talks
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
A year ago, Ariel Sharon was not welcome in Paris
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is starting a three-day visit to France.

He is expected to discuss the forthcoming pullout from the Gaza Strip with President Jacques Chirac.

Mr Chirac has described the withdrawal as courageous, and is expected to urge more Israeli moves to keep up momentum towards peace in the Middle East.

Mr Sharon, for his part, is expected to use the visit to praise the French government for its action against anti-Semitism in France.

Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield says relations between France and Israel have gone through a sudden improvement.

He says that the visit is taking place in an atmosphere of some goodwill is testament to the major changes that have taken place in the Middle East over the last year.

These include the death in Paris of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the election of his successor Mahmoud Abbas, the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and above all, next month's planned withdrawal from Gaza.

Anti-Semitic attacks down

Only a year ago, Mr Chirac was making it plain that Mr Sharon was not welcome in Paris, after the Israeli prime minister called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel because, he said, the climate of anti-Semitism was so bad in France.

France now sees Mr Sharon as someone capable of bold moves towards peace, our correspondent reports, and President Chirac will be urging him to start looking beyond the Gaza pullout to new gestures towards the Palestinians.

Mr Sharon has now praised France's efforts in combating anti-Semitism. Official figures show that attacks on Jewish targets are down by a half in the last year.

But on the question of the peace process, says our correspondent, he will be more cautious.

More gestures were possible, he told Le Monde newspaper in an interview, but only once Palestinian violence against Israelis had stopped.

As well as President Chirac, Mr Sharon will meet Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and French Jewish leaders.




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