`This is a provocation. Do you want me to get on my plane and go back to France?'

Furious Chirac threatens to cut short visit to Israel after clash with security forces
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Angered by heavy-handed Israel security, the French President, Jacques Chirac, threatened yesterday to cut short his visit to Israel and shouted at an Israeli police chief during a walk in Jerusalem's Old City.

"I'm starting to have had enough of this," Mr Chirac said, speaking in French, as Israeli police linked arms to stop Palestinians and foreign journalists approaching him. He then told a security chief in English: "This is not a method, this is a provocation."

The French President, his face flushed with anger, raised his voice as he said: "What, do you want me to go back to my plane and go back to France? Is that what you want? Let them go."

A spokesman for Mr Chirac said that he had requested a light security presence.

After a meeting with Mr Chirac later in the day, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters: "I want first of all to apologise for what happened this morning. We did that for a good cause, to protect a friend.

"I explained that since the Rabin murder, our security officials are extremely strict about protecting public figures."

It is more likely, however, that the belligerence of Israeli security men was intended to underline to Mr Chirac that Israel controls the Old City of Jerusalem, where 25,000 out of the 28,000 population are Palestinian.

He had already irritated the government by calling for the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

Police in Jerusalem have a record of brutality and excessive use of force which has been heavily criticised over the past year by everybody from ultra-orthodox Jews to Christian boy scouts.

An investigation by B'Tselem, the Israeli human-rights organisation, of police actions on Temple Mount on 27 September revealed "widespread, reckless and illegal use of force, including lethal force, that left three people dead and more than 100 wounded".

At another stage in his tour of the Old City, as he reached the the entrance to Haram al-Sharif, the site of Islam's third-holiest shrine, Mr Chirac tried to push away Israeli police, saying: "No security now. I don't want you. Go away. You have no business here." France later filed an official complaint with the Israeli government.

Mr Chirac is tomorrow to address the Palestinian legislative council, the first foreign leader to do so, and during his visit to the Israeli Knesset a right-wing party leader shouted that he was an anti-Semite. There are signs of growing violence on the West Bank as talks on Israeli redeployment from Hebron continue without any result. Israeli soldiers yesterday shot dead a Palestinian teenager throwing stones at them.

The shooting, in a village near Ramallah, followed the killing earlier in the day of a Palestinian motorist whose car was hit by a rocket on a road near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Dennis Ross, the US peace envoy, dropped his plans to leave the Middle East, missing his plane to Washington because of last-minute hopes of a breakthrough on civilian issues rather than military security.

Earlier, angry PLO negotiators described Israeli delegates' attitudes as those of "occupiers toward the occupied".

"Unfortunately, the head of the Israeli delegation treats the Palestinian negotiators as if he is a military leader, and not as a negotiator," said a senior PLO security official, Mohammed Dahlan, of Dan Shomron, a former Israeli army chief.

Israel accuses the Palestinian delegation of wanting to string out the negotiations on Hebron until after the US presidential elections, in the belief that President Bill Clinton will then be better placed to put pressure on Mr Netanyahu.

Leading article, page 15

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