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Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 16:55 UK

Scare as Sarkozy departs Israel

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The moment the French president and his wife were rushed to safety

Confusion has marred French President Nicolas Sarkozy's farewell to Israel, after a soldier shot himself dead during an airport departure ceremony.

Mr Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, were rushed into their plane after the shot. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also hurried to safety.

The incident at Ben-Gurion airport came at the end of Mr Sarkozy's three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.

A police spokesman said the security officer had committed suicide.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident, which happened just as Mr Sarkozy and Ms Bruni were about to board their plane, had posed no threat to the visitors.

He denied reports that it might have been an assassination attempt on the French president. Other reports suggested the soldier may have shot himself accidentally.

Witnesses said the incident was over within minutes and that Mr Olmert had then boarded the Sarkozys' plane to say farewell and explain what had happened.

'A priority'

Israel Radio reported that the soldier had been stationed on the perimeter of the airport, some 100m to 200m (330 - 660 feet) from the Sarkozys' plane, when he shot himself as a band played.

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy in the West Bank, 24 June
Mr Sarkozy and his wife earlier met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

Television footage showed the French president and his wife being hustled up the steps into the aircraft.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was also present for the farewell ceremony, was also taken to his armoured car.

Mr Sarkozy's visit was intended to improve relations between France and Israel.

He also held talks in the West Bank on Tuesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Sarkozy voiced his support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

"The security of Israel is non-negotiable for France, but the creation of a viable, democratic, modern state for the Palestinians is a priority for France," he said.

He also repeated his call for Israel to halt its building of settlements in the West Bank.

It came a day after he told Israeli politicians in the Knesset that there would be no lasting Middle East peace without a freeze on Jewish settlement construction on Palestinian land.

Mr Abbas said the Palestinians were "relying a great deal on the European role" in the peace process, particularly as France takes on the rotating European Union presidency next month.



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