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Palestinians to Chirac: 'Vive la France'

French president hailed during visit

October 23, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac received a hero's welcome Wednesday in the Palestinian territories where he made the first speech to the Palestinian legislature by a head of state.

He urged Palestinian leaders to renounce violence and respect democratic principles as the best means for achieving statehood. Chirac also criticized Israel, where he had spent the previous two days, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to live up to agreements signed by the previous government.


Thousands of Palestinians, including flag-waving school children, lined the streets of self-ruled Ramallah to welcome Chirac, a vocal advocate of an independent Palestinian state. Many chanted "Vive la France" and "Vive la Palestine."

Later, he received an equally warm welcome in Gaza. Chirac flew on to Amman, Jordan, where he was met by King Hussein. The French leader will go on to Lebanon and Egypt later this week.

"To achieve peace, Israel's legitimate desire for security must be understood and acknowledged by all," he told the Palestinian legislature, elected last January.

But in a speech frequently interrupted by applause, the French president also urged Israel to halt expansion of Jewish settlements, to stop deporting Palestinians and demolishing their houses, and to relinquish its hold over Arab East Jerusalem.

Afterward, a smiling Yasser Arafat was clearly grateful. The Palestinian president used the moment to restate his call to Israel for "honest implementation" of previous agreements.

"We are not asking for the moon," he said.

Chirac seeks wider European role in Mideast


Chirac spent much of his Mideast visit lobbying for a wider European role in the peace process, a concept rejected by Israel but welcomed by Palestinians. "Israel feels it can unilaterally call the shots and take the United States for granted," said Palestinian cabinet member Hanan Ashrawi.


Israel and the Palestinian Authority are deadlocked in negotiations to implement a long-delayed Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank town of Hebron.

U.S. peace envoy Dennis Ross, who announced he was leaving the talks Monday but changed his mind after the talks made headway, remained in Israel on Wednesday. A U.S. official said it was unclear when Ross would return to Washington.

Security alert

Israel went on high security alert Wednesday, fearing guerrilla vengeance attacks in connection with the one-year anniversary of a militant Islamic leader's assassination.

Fathi Shqaqi was gunned down October 26 on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. His assassins were never found, but Israel's Mossad secret service is widely believed to have been behind the killing. Islamic Jihad has vowed to avenge his assassination.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.


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