Sarkozy arrives in Tel Aviv on three-day visit

June 23rd, 2008 - 3:35 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, June 23 (DPA) French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived Sunday in Jerusalem for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and address Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset. “I have always been and will be a friend of Israel,” said the visiting head of state after landing at the Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv.

He supported the foundation of a Palestinian state, which he said would bring peace to both peoples.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed Sarkozy and praised his “spirit of friendship” and support of the Jewish State. Both he and President Shimon Peres lauded France’s contributions to the nascent state of Israel, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The French president is seen in Israel as one of the strongest opponents in Europe of Iran obtaining nuclear arms. News reports said Tehran’s nuclear plans would be one of the main topics on the agenda during the visit.

Sarkozy, who arrived with ministers, businessmen, French Jews and his wife Carla Bruni, took part in a welcoming ceremony Sunday night in Jerusalem with Peres and had dinner with Olmert.

During his first visit to Israel as president, Sarkozy will Monday tour Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and address the Knesset.

Before leaving Tuesday, Sarkozy is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He also plans to meet the parents of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Gazan militants two years ago in a cross-border raid. Shalit has French citizenship.

The last French presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories took place in 1996, when Jacques Chirac held the post.

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