PARIS, Feb 17 (AFP) – Israeli President Moshe Katzav has called for Muslims around the world to end suicide bombings, but said that as long as “terrorism” existed his country would have no option but to build its controversial barrier cutting off the Palestinian population.
Katzav made the comments late Monday in Paris at a banquet hosted by his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, at the start of a four-day state visit to France, the first by an Israeli head-of-state since 1988.
He appealed to Muslim religious and political leaders “to act to end the incitement of hate, anti-Semitism, suicide attacks that go against the principles of Islam and the Koran.”
He added: “As long as terrorism lasts, we have no other choice but to build the security barrier, to take unilateral measures and to conduct military actions to protect our citizens’ lives.”
The issue of the barrier threatened to dominate Katzav’s visit. As the Israeli president held talks with Chirac Monday, about 300 demonstrators from rights groups and left-wing parties protested the wall under banners reading
“Stop Israeli state terrorism” and chanting slogans such as “State of Israel, criminal state”.
Israel insists the wall is designed to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, but Palestinians argue it is a land grab and a form of apartheid.
The legality of the barrier is to be examined next week by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, but Israel is to boycott the hearings.
Chirac, who has previously labelled the barrier illegal, told Katzav at the dinner that “France recognises that Israel has placed its safety and that of its citizens at the forefront of its concerns.”
But, he added, “the Palestinians also have the right to peace, to dignity, to a future, to a state”.
On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin suggested on France Inter radio that an international peacekeeping force could be sent to the Gaza Strip after Israel dismantled 17 settlements there in line with a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“Why not envisage, as soon as the settlements are dismantled, an intervening force, a peacekeeping force, being deployed in Gaza?” he said.
He also raised the possibility of an international conference being held after the settlements were gone “to mark the passage from one phase to the next” of a peace plan that has largely been ignored up to now.
Israel has in the past opposed the idea of a peacekeeping force in the region.
Sharon’s proposal, which is part of a larger plan to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians amid the impasse in the peace process, has also run into stiff resistance from hard-line elements in his right-wing Likud party.Katzav, who holds a largely ceremonial role, on Tuesday was to meet French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
Both France and Israel have gone to some effort to bury a dispute over whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in France during Katzav’s stay.
Chirac repeated his vow to crack down on anti-Semitic attacks in his country, but portrayed Israeli claims that such assaults were widespread and increasing as baseless.
“We do not accept groundless accusations that are sometimes made against us and which are an attack on France’s honour.”
The Israeli ambassador to Paris, Nissim Zvili, said Sharon might follow up Katzav’s visit to France with one of his own “towards April”.
Subject: France news