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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Netanyahu and Macron mark mass killing of French Jews

The two leaders joined together to remember the death of 13,000 Jews, before holding their first direct talks

French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint declaration at the Elysee Palace in Paris
French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint declaration at the Elysee Palace in Paris

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the French President in Paris to commemorate the victims of a mass arrest of Jews in Nazi-occupied France.

The trip was also an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu to hold direct talks with Emmanuel Macron for the first time. The Middle East peace process is likely to be high on the agenda.

More than 13,000 Jews - 4,000 believed to be children - were arrested by French police in July 1942.

They were taken to the Velodrome D'Hiver, a cycling stadium near the Eiffel Tower, or an internment camp. Many were sent on to Auschwitz concentration camp and fewer than 100 people survived.

Mr Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to attend the Vel d'Hiv commemorations.

"I'm here to mourn the victims," Mr Netanyahu told an audience in Paris, which included Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors.

"Seventy-five years ago, a heavy darkness descended on this city... It seems the values of the French revolution - equality, fraternity, liberty - was crushed brutally under the boot of anti-Semitism."

Some in France have criticised Mr Netanyahu's attendance.

Elie Barnavi, a former Israeli ambassador to France, told AFP news agency: "The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy.

"This story has nothing to do with Israel."

The Union of French Jews for Peace, a pro-Palestinian organisation, described the decision to invite Mr Netanyahu as "shocking" and "unacceptable".

The episode remains controversial in France. Marine Le Pen, Mr Macron's far-right opponent in this year's election, drew strong criticism when she suggested France was not responsible for the tragedy.

Speaking at the ceremony, President Macron reaffirmed that "it was France that organised" the mass arrest.

Mr Netanyahu is in France during a five-day day trip to Europe. His last official visit to France was to attend the unity march following the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket in January 2015.

It is thought the Mr Netanyahu will be pushing to find out Mr Macron’s intentions towards the Middle East process during their conversation following the ceremony.

The French president met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Paris earlier this month. At the time he stated France supports a two-state solution and opposes Israel's building of settlements in occupied territory.

Earlier this week two Israeli policemen were killed and a third wounded by three Israeli Arabs in a gun attack. It occurred close to the compound in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. The attackers were later killed by security forces.