Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 1 News List

France presses for Israeli explanation to resolve dispute

CLARIFICATION Both countries yesterday admitted that there was a misunderstanding about Ariel Sharon's call on French Jews to emigrate immediately

REUTERS , PARIS

France said yesterday it was still waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to explain a call for French Jews to emigrate immediately to Israel, but signalled it wanted to end the diplomatic row quickly.

A day after France put on hold an invitation for Sharon to visit Paris until he explains his comments, France and Israel both said the row arose from a misunderstanding and an Israeli official said Israel was preparing to offer "clarifications."

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said France wanted to move on from the dispute to focus its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East on seeking peace.

"We are waiting for explanations," Barnier told Europe 1 radio. But he sought to avoid making any comments that would worsen the dispute.

"I am not going to engage in polemics over a planned visit by Mr Sharon which is just a plan at this stage ... What is true is that there has been a serious misunderstanding," he said.

He made clear France was upset because it considered Sharon, who urged French Jews to escape "the wildest anti-Semitism," had not paid enough attention to French efforts to fight anti-Semitism and had misrepresented the situation in France.

"The comments questioned the very principles [of equality] of the ... French republic," Barnier said.

But he added: "I think that now, while waiting for the explanations we asked for, we should dedicate our time, energy, intelligence and initiative to seeking peace in this region.

"As for the relations we want to preserve with the state of Israel and the Israeli people, who are our friends, we must take time to understand one another better," he said.

Israel also made clear it wanted to end the dispute.

Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman and former ambassador to France, said: "This is a misunderstanding between Israel and France which is caused by cultural differences."

"France is considered by us to be a friendly country and we want to have a close dialogue with it. I hope that this dialogue will continue and that together we will be able to dissipate this misunderstanding," he said.

An official in Sharon's office said clarifications about what the prime minister said will be provided by the Foreign Ministry.

"It's a storm in a teacup," the official said.

Sharon made his comments on Sunday in a speech to Jewish leaders visiting Jerusalem in which he also acknowledged the French government was making efforts to stem anti-Semitism.

France said on Monday it was putting plans for a visit by Sharon on hold until he explained his comments.

France is home to western Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities and has been troubled by attacks on Jewish people and property in recent years, some of it blamed on tensions stoked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Also see story:

France frowns at Jewish emigration

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