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Syrian's Assad defends Jewish comment

Forni and Assad
Assad, right, was greeted by French National Assembly President Raymond Forni  


PARIS, France -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has defended remarks seen as anti-Semitic, by saying he was referring only to Israel.

Assad said to Pope John Paul II last month that the Israelis "tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad."

During a state visit to France on Tuesday, Assad said the remarks were not directed at Jews in general, but only at Israel.

"I was talking about Israelis, not Jews," Assad told lawmakers at the National Assembly, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"When I say Israel carries out killings, it's the reality: Israel tortures Palestinians. I didn't speak about Jews."

He said his comments were misinterpreted by western media organisations.

About 6,000 protesters marched through southwestern Paris carrying placards reading "Heil Assad" when he arrived in Paris on Monday.

On Tuesday, three Paris city councillors were ejected from City Hall after trying to disrupt a speech by Assad with signs that read "Assad anti-Semite."

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe gave Assad a cold reception, pointedly denouncing racism and anti-Semitism after declining to shake hands with the Syrian leader in front of the cameras.





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