Netanyahu's Paris visit for Vel d'Hiv ceremony stirs protests

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Paris Sunday to mark the 75th anniversary of a notorious roundup of thousands of Jews. Ahead of his visit, the French capital was hit with protests as many people criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Paris, condemning the Israeli settlement policy and the blockade of Gaza.

The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) described the decision to invite Netanyahu as "shocking" and "unacceptable." France's Communist Party also protested, saying Netanyahu was not conveying a message of peace.

Former French ambassador to Israel Elie Barnavi, told AFP: "The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy. This story has nothing to do with Israel," he added.

Olivia Zemor, president of the Euro Palestine association, told the AP news agency on Saturday that "rolling out the red carpet" for someone she said violated international conventions did not send the right signal and was "embarrassing."

"We called for this protest and we protest President Macron's invitation to Netanyahu and his rolling out of the red carpet to a criminal, a torturer - the torture of men and children exists - to a land thief, to someone who does not respect international law or human rights, which is embarrassing," she said.

Yassine Blicqy, 19, a protester from Valenciennes, said: "I hope that France, in the next few years or even decades, will choose justice and will side with the oppressed peoples because that's what France is about. It's not oppression, it is freedom and human rights. This is about diversity and equality, and we must set an example."

Sunday's ceremony marks the day in 1942 that officials of the Vichy regime in Nazi-occupied France began rounding up more than 13,000 Jews in Velodrome d'Hiver, an indoor cycle track in Paris. Fewer than 100 of those who were detained at the so-called Vel d'Hiv and then sent to the Nazi death camps survived.

The Israeli leader's last visit to France was to attend a march held in solidarity with the victims of the January 2015 terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

Netanyahu held talks with Macron for the first time since the French president's election, barely a week after Macron met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Earlier this month, Macron held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elyée Palace.Macron chose that occasion as an opportunity to reiterate both France's support for a two-state solution to end the Middle East conflict and its opposition against Israel's building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. However, it is not yet clear if Macron will follow the more interventionist line taken by his predecessor Francois Hollande, whose efforts to mobilize the international community on the question angered Israel. Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have not resumed since the failure of U.S. mediation in the spring of 2014.

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