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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Israel takes in 200 French Jews
Jewish agency head Sarayi Meridor (l) and Ariel Sharon (r) with immigrants
The immigrants were personally welcomed by Sharon
A plane carrying 200 French Jewish immigrants has landed in Israel, at a time of strained diplomatic relations between Israel and France.

They were personally greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who recently urged French Jews to flee to Israel to escape rising anti-Semitism.

In his welcoming speech, Mr Sharon moved to reduce tensions with France.

French police meanwhile said a Jewish cemetery had been vandalised in the town of Saverne, near Strasbourg.

Praise for France

"Welcome to Israel," Mr Sharon told the immigrants, "welcome home."

Jews must immigrate because [Israel] is their homeland
Ariel Sharon
The BBC's Katya Adler in Tel Aviv says Mr Sharon's speech was clearly a conciliatory gesture aimed at the French authorities.

He said anti-Semitism threatened the Western world, but he did not single out France.

"We therefore very much appreciate the determined actions of the French government, as well as the French president's stand against anti-Semitism. We hope that his determination will serve as an example to other countries as well."

"Jews must come to Israel not because of hatred or fear. Jews must immigrate because it is their homeland," he said.

Our correspondent says it is now thought these words will bring to an end 10 days of tension between France and Israel, which had prompted President Jacques Chirac to declare Mr Sharon unwelcome on French soil.

Headstones daubed

In the latest in a spate of attacks on Jewish cemeteries in France, 34 headstones were desecrated, many of them daubed with red or blue swastika symbols, in Saverne, police said.

A Satanic '666' symbol had been painted on two graves.

"Once again, I can only condemn the cowardly nature and stupidity of such acts," said Pierre Levy, a regional representative of Jewish organisations in France.

The BBC's correspondent in Paris says the number of threats and attacks on Jews in France has risen sharply in the wake of the second Palestinian uprising.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"Where else are new immigrants greeted by the prime minister in person?"



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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