French President Angered By Heavy Security On Old City Tour
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Frustrated by heavy-handed security, French President Jacques Chirac threatened today to cut short his visit to Israel and shouted at an Israeli security chief during a walk in Jerusalem’s Old City.
``I’m starting to have had enough of this,″ Chirac said in French before turning to the security chief and saying, in English: ``This is not a method, this is a provocation.″
``What do you want, me to go back to my plane and go back to France? Is that what you want? Let them go, let them do,″ Chirac said, his voice raised and his faced flushed in anger.
Chirac was referring to photographers and Palestinian passers-by who were trying to get close to him in one of the narrow alleys of the Old City’s outdoor market. They were being blocked by Israeli policemen, several rows deep, who had linked arms in front of Chirac.
Chirac’s spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said the president lodged an official complaint with his hosts over the behavior of the security guards.
Chirac met later today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and spokesman David Bar-Illan played down the security confrontation.
``I am sure the incident, whatever it was, is not going to harm (our) basically friendly and warm relations,″ he said.
The tense tour reflected the overall tone of Chirac’s visit to Israel. He irritated Israel’s hard-line government Monday, the first day of his visit, when he called for the creation of a Palestinian state and a return of the Golan Heights to Syria. Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War.
On Wednesday, Chirac was to address the Palestinian legislative council, the first foreign leader to do so. The speech was seen as another gesture in support of Palestinian independence.
Chirac began his tour today at the Old City’s New Gate, then walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher _ built over the site where tradition says Jesus was buried _ before reaching the Al Asqa Mosque compound, a site sacred to Muslims and Jews.
During the trip, Chirac stopped several times to talk with the Israeli security guards around him. Palestinian merchants standing in the doorways of their shops were quickly flanked by Israeli policemen as Chirac approached, and some were pushed back.
At Al Aqsa, Chirac was received by Hassan Tahboub, minister of religious affairs in Yasser Arafat’s Cabinet.
``We don’t want anything from the world. We just want peace in the region to prevail,″ Tahboub told the president.
Chirac viewed the Dome of the Rock Mosque, one of two shrines in the compound, but did not enter the house of worship.
The Al Aqsa compound, known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, is the most incendiary spot in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last month, Israel’s decision to open an entrance to a tourist tunnel along the compound set off three days of riots by Palestinians. Seventy-nine people were killed in gun battles between Israeli troops and Palestinian police.
Chirac donned a black skullcap today, the traditional Jewish head covering for men, and visited the Western Wall, which runs alongside the Al Aqsa compound and is Judaism’s holiest site. The Wall is the last remnant of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.