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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 22:57 GMT
French PM lashes Hezbollah 'terrorism'


Jospin welcomed by Barak at prime misister's office


French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has condemned attacks by Hezbollah fighters on Israeli forces in south Lebanon, saying they are "terrorism" and not acts of resistance.

The comments, during a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, could cause dismay in Arab countries close to France, in particular Syria and Lebanon.

"France condemns Hezbollah's attacks, and all types of terrorist attacks which may be carried out against soldiers, or possibly Israel's civilian population," he told a news conference in Jerusalem.

Israel has occupied parts of Lebanon since 1978, ostensibly to protect the occupants of northern towns against guerrilla attacks.

First stop in Jerusalem was visit to Yitzhak Rabin's grave
Lebanese fighters who target the occupation forces are hailed by Arab governments as a legitimate resistance movement.

Israeli retaliated for recent deaths among its troops in the occupation zone by launching air raids deep inside Lebanon, targeting the civilian infrastructure, as well as alleged guerrilla bases.

Three Lebanese power plants were bombed, plunging much of the country into darkness and wounding at least 20 civilians.

"Sparing the civilian population is a constraint which Israel is trying to respect, but it is attacked by terrorist acts (which) we condemn," Mr Jospin said.

'Blood for blood'

Mr Jospin declined to back threats against Lebanon issued by Israel's foreign minister on Wednesday and Thursday, whose ferocity correspondents say shocked many Israelis.

"If Kiryat Shmona burns," David Levy said, referring to Israel's northernmost settlement, "Lebanon will burn, blood for blood, child for child."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak backed his foreign minister's words as "an expression of our heavy responsibility for Israel's security", but the Justice Minister Yossi Beilin warned they did not "contribute to reducing tensions".

Building bridges

France in the past has won praise from Arab countries for what they have seen as its objectivity on Middle East issues - something which has upset the Israelis in equal measure.

Netherlands flag in Jerusalem Israel went Dutch before error was noticed
The current visit began awkwardly for Mr Jospin, firstly when streets in Israel were mistakenly festooned with the Netherlands flag instead of the French flag, and secondly when the foreign ministry attacked the French for apparently recognising Palestinian claims, but not Israeli ones, to Jerusalem as a capital city.

Mr Jospin is on his first official visit, aimed in part at repairing strained Franco-Israeli ties.

On Wednesday, he offered French troops to guarantee in any future peace accord with Lebanon.

He has also presented a painting by Paul Gauguin to the Israel Museum, donated by a prominent French Jewish family.

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See also:
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Israel hoists the wrong flag
20 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Israel sorry for diplomatic blunder
23 Feb 00 |  Middle East
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Analysis: Solving the Jerusalem problem

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