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The BBC's Hugh Schofield
reports on Ariel Sharon's visit to Paris
 real 56k

Eric Rouleau, former french ambassador to Cairo
"They consider him a man of war, not a man of peace"
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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Cool reception for Sharon in Europe
Anti-Sharon protesters
A large crowd gathered in Paris to condemn Mr Sharon
President Jacques Chirac of France has warned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to weaken the position of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

After the French and Israeli leaders met in Paris, Mr Chirac said that undermining the Palestinian leadership would be "counter-productive".

Meanwhile, about 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of Paris shouting "Sharon, assassin!" and calling for him to be tried for war crimes.

Ariel Sharon shakes hands with Jacques Chirac
Smiles conceal a stern message from France
Mr Sharon is on the second leg of a mission to seek support for Israel's view of its conflict with the Palestinians and to bring European pressure to bear on the Palestinians to clamp down on militants.

As expected, he received a warmer welcome in Germany than France, although Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he had offered Mr Sharon friendly advice to be more "flexible" on the question of continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Mr Sharon did not respond to this, but said Israel's "right to self-defence is a great right and a great duty," and he reaffirmed that he was still committed to a US-brokered ceasefire.

But with deaths mounting, and some fierce gun battles breaking out in the West Bank and Gaza, a BBC correspondent said that the ceasefire agreement is now in "disarray".

We continue to express our distress and opposition to these kinds of targeted killing

US Sec of State Colin Powell
On Wednesday the Israeli Government raised the temperature by saying it would continue targeting Palestinian militants in pre-emptive attacks.

Condemnation of the idea has come from the United Nations, Europe and from Israel's closest ally, the United States.

"We continue to express our distress and opposition to these kinds of targeted killings," US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, appealed to Israel to stop the practice "forthwith," his spokesman said, adding: "There is no alternative to a political settlement of the conflict".

Fighting rages

As Mr Sharon arrived in Berlin earlier on Thursday, a fierce battle raged in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, with some reports saying the six-hour clash was the most intense since the Palestinian uprising began nine months ago.

Ariel Sharon inspects honour guard in Berlin
Germany takes the softest line on Israel in Europe
Palestinians said at least 20 houses were damaged by tank fire. Israel denied tank shells were fired and accused the Palestinians of throwing about 50 home-made grenades at an army post.

There are no reports of casualties, and it is not clear what triggered the clash.

But a Palestinian was killed in another incident in the West Bank city of Ramallah, during a clash between armed Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at the Jewish settlement of Psagot, which abuts an Arab suburb. Palestinians said he was shot as he was playing football. There has been no comment from the Israeli army.

Long conflict

Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio on Thursday: "No one can prevent us [from targeted attacks]... the minute there is a unit on its way to carry out a murderous operation."

Scene in Rafah after Thursday afternoon's gunfight
Rafah has seldom seen worse clashes than those on Thursday
He went on to warn the Israeli public that they were heading towards "a long conflict" that would continue until the Palestinians recognised the futility of their struggle against Israel.

But in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mr Arafat pledged his commitment to the ceasefire and said several Palestinian militants had already been arrested for violating it.

For his part, he blamed Israel for undermining the truce.

"Occupation is violence, illegal settlements are violence, blockades are violence," Mr Arafat said.

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israel army given freer rein
02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Mid-East truce 'close to collapse'
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Greater Mid-East role urged for Europe
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
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29 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
The future of the Jewish settlements
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