PARIS (Reuters) - France shares Israel’s concerns at the arming of Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, President Emmanuel Macron told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their first formal meeting in Paris on Sunday.
Tensions have risen between Hezbollah and its longtime foe Israel since Donald Trump became U.S. president with his tough talk against Iran. The Iran-backed group’s rocket arsenal can hit any military target in the Jewish state, its chief said last month.
“I share Israeli concerns on the arming of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon,” Macron told reporters on Sunday, alongside Netanyahu. “We seek Lebanon’s stability with due regard to all minorities,” he said.
The French president reiterated that he would support any initiative seeking the resumption of negotiations of the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been frozen for three years.
He confirmed France’s long-held policy that favors a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital for the Palestinian state and Israel and said he would visit Israel “in the coming months”, at the invitation of the Israeli prime minister.
Netanyahu, who is looking to turn a new page with France after resisting attempts led last year by Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande to restart the peace process via an international conference, said Israel and France shared a desire to see “a stable and peaceful Middle-East.”
The one-hour long meeting between the two leaders at the Elysee palace followed a commemoration of a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War Two. It was the first commemoration of this kind to be attended by an Israeli prime minister.
The arrest, called “rafle du Vel d’Hiv,” refers to the Nazi-ordered roundup by French police in the Velodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium of 13,000 Jews, who were then deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in July 1942.
France’s invitation was a “very, very powerful gesture”, Netanyahu said in French.
Macron addressed Netanyahu with his nickname “Bibi” at the start of his speech at the commemoration ceremony. He said that anti-Zionism was a “reinvented form of anti-Semitism”, a remark that brought praise from Netanyahu.
Reporting by Marine Pennetier and Mathieu Rosemain,; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Richard Balmforth
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