Barnier in Israel to strengthen ties with France

15th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

JERUSALEM, Oct 17 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier vowed a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism as he visited a memorial to French Jews killed in the Holocaust at the start of a fence-mending trip to Israel Sunday.

JERUSALEM, Oct 17 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier vowed a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism as he visited a memorial to French Jews killed in the Holocaust at the start of a fence-mending trip to Israel Sunday.

"We will not compromise, we will never compromise," Barnier said as he visited the Roglit memorial in Jerusalem.

"The executioners of Treblinka, of Dachau, wanted to erase the memory of their victims, erase the humanity of mankind ... But we are here today to say that they failed," he added.

The visit to the memorial was his first official event on the 48-hour trip which will also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his counterpart Silvan Shalom and President Moshe Katsav. No talks with Palestinian officials have been lined up.

The French minister was due to have travelled to Israel in July but had to scrap his plans amid Israeli anger at his decision to meet previously with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel has kept Arafat under virtual house arrest in the West Bank town of Ramallah and has been trying to persuade other governments to follow the lead set by the United States and end all contact with the veteran leader.

Relations also took a dive in July when Sharon infuriated Paris when he called on French Jews to leave "immediately" to Israel in the face of what he called the "spread of the wildest anti-Semitism".

Israel tried to defuse the row by praising efforts by French President Jacques Chirac's government to combat anti-Semitism and pointing out that its desire for Jews to immigrate to Israel was integral part of its policy rather than simply directed at France.

Israel has argued that European Union countries such as France have shown a bias in its conflict with the Palestinians, threatening to limit their role in the peace process.

However, Barnier last week underlined his belief that the EU has a political role to play in resolving the conflict.

"I would like it to be understood in Israel that the EU is not just a big market with which to trade but that it is - and is going to be - also a political player," he said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman David Saranga said that Barnier's visit, his first since coming to office, was an opportunity to forge stronger bilateral ties.

"France is a great country with whom Israel maintains important historical relations despite some differences," Saranga said.

"We are hoping that the first visit to Israel by Mr Barnier will contribute to a strengthening in bilateral relations and of links between the two countries, as well as constructive dialogue."

Barnier's meetings with Sharon and Shalom will both take place on Monday. He is also scheduled to meet with the former prime minister and main opposition leader Shimon Peres.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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