France offers Sharonhelp with Gaza pullout

18th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

JERUSALEM, Oct 18 (AFP) - Visiting Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pledged French help Monday to ensure the success of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout plan as he sought to open a new chapter in recently fraught relations.

JERUSALEM, Oct 18 (AFP) - Visiting Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pledged French help Monday to ensure the success of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout plan as he sought to open a new chapter in recently fraught relations.

Barnier, who met with both Sharon and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, said that his talks with the premier had increased his understanding of the scale of the challenge to ensure that the so-called disengagement plan wins approval.

The minister also pledged his solidarity both for victims of Palestinian attacks and paid tribute to French Jewish victims of the Holocaust in a bid to draw a line under recent diplomatic spats.

"I have come here to listen, and to understand, and also to show solidarity in the face of the terrorism which has struck this country and its citizens," Barnier said in a joint press conference with Shalom.

"This spiral of violence and despair which threatens the entire region is a conflict which we regard as central to the crisis in the Middle East."

Barnier said that the French and European Union as a whole regarded the "instability and insecurity here as our instability and our insecurity."

Israel has consistently accused the European Union of displaying bias in the Middle East peace process.

Israel's angry reaction to Barnier's decision to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, kept under virtual Israeli house arrest in the West Bank, back in July forced the minister to scrap earlier plans to meet officials here.

Barnier said that, after meeting Sharon, he understood that his planned pullout from Gaza is "more difficult than I imagined before arriving."

Settlers and members of Sharon's own Likud party are lobbying furiously to block the pullout.

The minister said that the EU, one of the four sponsors of the troubled roadmap peace plan, was "ready to play its role to accompany the success of this withdrawal" but would not just be handing out blank cheques.

"Europe will not merely limit its role to one of financial support. We are not just a supermarket that can send cheques here and there."

Shalom said that isolated disputes between the two countries should not deflect from wider cooperation.

"We see France as an example for all of Europe in its determination not to let differences of opinion in particular issues in the peace process get in the way of our mutual desire to promote our bilateral cooperation," said Shalom.

But he also took a swipe at France's continued determination to hold talks with Arafat by saying there was no Palestinian partner in the peace process.

Sharon's government has not only cut all ties with Arafat but also refuses to speak with the moderate Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei, accusing him of lacking either the will or the ability to end attacks on Israel by militants.

Apart from their differences over contacts with the Palestinians, Franco-Israeli 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".

Barnier visited Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial before his meetings. After arriving on Sunday, the foreign minister also toured a memorial for Jews who were deported from France during the Nazi period.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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