France urges Mideast parties not to cede to provocation

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France urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders not to allow provocation by violent extremists to derail Wednesday's attempt to get Middle East peace talks back on track.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was speaking a day after a Palestinian gunman killed four Israeli civilians in the West Bank town of Hebron, and just hours ahead of the start of direct negotiations.

"It's time for responsibility, courage and action for peace. France will do whatever it can to support Israelis and Palestinians down this road," Kouchner said, in a statement released by his office.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas were to meet each other and US President Barack Obama later Wednesday to restart peace talks after a 20-month delay.

On the eve of the talks a Palestinian gunman killed four Jewish settlers, in an attack claimed by the Hamas militant group.

© 2010 AFP

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