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Hollande asked Netanyahu not to attend Paris march: reports

France calls up 15,000 extra security personnel to beef up security at Jewish schools and 'sensitive sites'
Netanyahu (L) Hollande (C) and Abbas (R) all attend Sunday's march (AFP)

French President Francois Hollande asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend Sunday’s rally in Paris, which remembered the victims of attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

Hollande had “conveyed a message” to Netanyahu asking him to stay at home so as “to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” reported Haaretz on Monday.

A similar message was sent to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Both he and Netanyahu initially accepted Hollande’s request, releasing statements on Saturday saying they would not be attending the Paris rally.

However, once political rivals Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Saturday evening they would be travelling to France, Netanyahu reversed his decision.

Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s national security advisor, then informed his French counterpart Jacques Audibert of the Israeli premier’s intention to join the Paris march, which was ultimately attended by up to 1.2 million people. 

“Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel,” wrote Haaretz’s Barak Ravid.

Audibert explained that as a result an invitation to the march would be extended to Abbas, who duly accepted, and both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders appeared by Hollande’s side at Sunday’s rally in the French capital.

After the march Hollande, with Netanyahu, attended an event at the Grand Synagogue in Paris to commemorate the four Jewish civilians killed in Friday’s attack on a kosher supermarket.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he appreciated the "very firm position" taken by French leaders against "the new anti-Semitism and terrorism" in France.

He also thanked Lassana Bathily, the Muslim employee of a Jewish supermarket who saved several hostages during a subsequent attack on Friday.

"Our common enemy is radical, extremist Islam - not normal Islam," Netanyahu said at the synagogue. "Israel is today at Europe's side, but I would like Europe to be on Israel's side too."

Netanyahu is now slated to visit the kosher supermarket later on Monday to pay his respects, an Israeli embassy spokesperson told AFP. 

He will be accompanied by Lieberman, the spokesperson added, while stressing that no speech would be made during the brief ceremony. 

The French president expressed his displeasure at Netanyahu by leaving the event early, before Netanyahu gave a speech. Tensions between Paris and Tel Aviv have been high in recent months, with the French Parliament passing a non-binding resolution to recognise Palestine in early December, and then also voting in favour of a UN resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  

Netanyahu visits the Grand Synagogue in Paris (AFP)

During the speech Netanyahu spoke out strongly against alleged Islamic State member Ahmed Coulibaly’s killing of four Jews in Paris. He urged French Jews on Saturday to migrate to Israel.

“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” he said.

France has a Jewish population of almost 500,000, who have been suffering an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks. According to the Jewish Community Protection Service, French Jews are victims of 40 percent of hate crimes despite making up less than 1 percent of the population.

French leaders have sought to reassure the Jewish community of their valued place in society, in the aftermath of last week’s supermarket attack.

“France without the Jews of France is not France,” said Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Extra security measures were also announced on Monday when France said that it would be deploying 15,000 police and security forces to bolster security around "sensitive" sites and Jewish schools in the country, in the wake of the attacks.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 10,000 soldiers will be called up from Tuesday to protect "sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow [Tuesday] evening", given the "scale of threats" on France.

The troop deployment would come on top of 5,000 police and security forces already mobilised Monday to protect some 717 schools and Jewish sites in the country.

Le Drian unveiled the fresh measures after an emergency meeting called by President Francois Hollande as attention turned to preventing a repeat of France's bloodiest attacks in half a century.

"This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil," the defence minister said, adding that he would prefer not to list the sites which are deemed sensitive.

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