BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) - An Israeli guard on the perimeter of a farewell airport ceremony for French President Nicolas Sarkozy shot himself dead on Tuesday, causing a security stir but not endangering the visiting leader, police said.
Bodyguards rushed Sarkozy and his wife to their plane and whisked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres toward armored cars on the tarmac.
“This was in no way an assassination attempt,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, calling the incident a suicide.
The two Israeli leaders later returned to the aircraft to bid the Sarkozys goodbye after it was established that the incident was over and posed no threat. The plane then took off.
Rosenfeld said the guard who shot himself was a paramilitary policeman assigned to a security patrol at the airport.
During his three-day state visit, Sarkozy repeatedly put himself forward as a possible broker of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, using his support among Israelis to mend ties and nudge them towards a peace deal.
Sarkozy has branded himself an ally of the Jewish state, saying its security cannot be called into question and that it is “not alone” in facing any threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. That has earned him praise from Israeli leaders.
“For you to be able to make peace there has to be a third partner who comes and tells you honestly ‘We will help you because we have friends on both sides’,” Sarkozy told a gathering of businessmen on Tuesday morning.
“France and Europe want to get involved in the peace process,” he said later in the day. On July 1, France takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union -- one of a Quartet of world powers trying to broker Middle East peace.
The main event of Sarkozy’s visit was his address on Monday to Israel’s parliament, in which he called for an end to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for Israel and a future Palestine each to have a capital in Jerusalem.
He ended his stay on Tuesday with a short visit to the Palestinian-ruled town of Bethlehem, which is surrounded by Israel’s concrete and barbed-wire West Bank barrier. Sarkozy told Israel diplomatic progress was the real key to security.
“Speaking to my Israeli friends, I want to tell them: ‘Do you think this wall will guarantee Israel’s security forever? No one can think that’,” Sarkozy told a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“What will guarantee Israel’s longevity and security ... is the creation of a democratic, modern Palestinian state on its borders,” he said, adding that he understood the security concerns of Israelis and did not want to “lecture” them.
Palestinians call the project a land grab. The International Court of Justice says the barrier is illegal because it cuts through land that Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel says it set up the barrier to stop suicide bombers used to spearhead a Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000.
Sarkozy threw his weight behind Abbas, who recently revived peace talks with Olmert, and strongly criticized Islamist Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas a year ago.
“France talks to men of peace, not to those who lay bombs. Hamas is totally wrong to behave the way it does. One does not make peace with terrorism, one does not talk to terrorism,” Sarkozy said, adding that his stance could change if Hamas did.
Writing by Dan Williams and Francois Murphy