Sunday, October 17, 2004

France promises to fight anti-semitism

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, visiting Israel to patch up tense relations, promised on Sunday that his country would do all it could to fight anti-Semitism.

Ties have been strained over France's support for the Palestinians as well as growing anti-Semitic incidents in France and a row that erupted after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged French Jews to emigrate.

Barnier said his government was determined 'to fight anti-Semitism, racism of all forms and xenophobia and is committed to do all it can to punish this shameful conduct that nothing can excuse.'

He was speaking at a memorial ceremony for French Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in France has more than doubled in the last year, according to official figures.

That is partly due to tension between France's 600,000 Jews and 5 million Muslims. Jewish leaders and public officials blame Muslim youths for the rise in attacks.

Relations between France and the Jewish state hit a low in July, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel to escape anti-Semitism. Sharon later praised France for fighting anti-Semitism to quell the spat.

Barnier angered Israel during his last visit to the region, in June, when he became the first senior official from a major power to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in more than a year. He urged Israel to stop isolating Arafat.

Barnier is due to meet Sharon on Monday.