Israel’s 60th Birthday

Nicolas Sarkozy to visit for the anniversary celebrations by Dave

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday announced plans to visit Israel in May for the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s creation.

Steve Bell on Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to celebrate the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in May.

More on Sarkozy, France and Israel here, here and here

French FM urges Israel to lift Gaza blockade

16 February 2008

JERUSALEM – French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and to freeze its policy of building settlements in the West Bank, at the start of a visit to the region on Saturday.

“The economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is especially bad. The blockade directly affects the entire economy and living conditions as well,” he said in an interview with Al Quds newspaper.

“We call for the Gaza blockade to be lifted — there must be free movement of both people and goods,” Kouchner told the main Arabic daily in the Palestinian territories.

Israel has kept Gaza under effective lockdown since last June following the territory’s takeover by the Islamist movement Hamas, and on January 17 it tightened the blockade before easing it again slightly.

The Israelis say the measure is in response to rockets being fired at it by Palestinian militants inside the impoverished coastal territory.

In the interview Kouchner also called on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to respect their commitments agreed at the relaunch of Middle East peace talks in the United States last November.

He is due to meet both Abbas and Olmert during his visit.

Kouchner’s arrival overnight on Friday came just hours after eight Palestinians, including a leading Islamic Jihad militant and members of his family, were killed in what medics and witnesses in the Gaza Strip said was an Israeli air strike.

A military spokesman in Tel Aviv denied Israeli involvement in the blast.

Both Israel and the Palestinians relaunched the US-sponsored peace process after a near seven-year hiatus with the aim of reaching an agreement by the end of 2008.

President George W. Bush has said he would like to see an accord before he leaves office in January next year.

“Israel must completely freeze settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, dismantle all those deemed illegal, and reopen Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem, namely the chamber of commerce,” Kouchner said in the interview.

“It cannot be said enough that the settlements are an obstacle to peace,” he added.

On Thursday five firms won bids from the Israeli authorities to expand the Har Homa settlement in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians consider to be the capital of their future state.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the move ”doesn’t help to build confidence,” while Abbas adviser Adnan Husseini said that if construction continues the Palestinians may suspend peace talks.

Kouchner also called on the Palestinians to take steps to improve conditions for a peace agreement.

The Palestinian Authority must “make very important efforts to fight against terrorist movements and reform the security services in order to make them more efficient,” he said.

“Encouraging progress has been achieved” but more must be done, he added.

Kouchner also said that improving living conditions in the West Bank could have a positive knock-on effect on the Gaza Strip.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday announced plans to visit Israel in May for the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s creation.


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